The week before Christmas, I decided I was fed up with the cold and the snow so it was high time that I do something about it.

I booked myself on a month long overland trip through East Africa and less than 6 weeks later, I found myself boarding a flight to Nairobi. (Also known as NightRobbery)

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Kenya Airways was surprisingly comfortable and after months of travelling on many of Europe’s budget airlines, I spend the entire 7 hour flight, watching movies and eating every scrap of airplane food given to us.

Nairobi was pretty much how I envisioned it to be.

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Part of it is well developed with a few ‘skyscrapers’, but many parts of it still looks like the slums.

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While there are lots of vehicles on the road, I was struck by how many people were walking along the side of the road.

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It shouldn’t surprise me since a vast majority of people in Nairobi wouldn’t be able to afford a car.

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Outside the city centre area, houses and buildings were small and basic.

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While the shops were modest in size and appearance, they were decorated with bright eye catching colours and advertising.

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On our first day, we set off for Lake Nakuru national park, passing by the Great Rift Valley.

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It is a huge trench that runs from North Syria to Mozambique.

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It was here that we stopped for our first group photo. We were complete strangers when we posed for it and considering how well we got to know one another, it seems strange now when I look back on it.

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Our group was made up of 11 people so we all fit very comfortably on our 24 seater truck (affectionately known as Matilda). There were two Danish guys, a guy from Greece, one American and 6 Aussies plus myself.

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The overland truck has power charging facilities so we can charge up our batteries and Ipods as well as play music on the stereo system.  While most of the seats are the standard forward seating chairs, there are also 4 sets of tables where you can sit around and play cards or have a cup of tea.

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We had a British tour leader and a Kenyan truck driver. Our tour leader, Geoff happened to be an ex-pastry chef and he told us early on that we were going to put on a stack of weight from his cooking. He has the most interesting stories to tell.

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Geoff used to be a HR manager for Tesco.  He sold his property 3 years ago and went travelling around the world for 2 years before deciding that he didn’t want to return to the UK. Hence he became a Kumuka tour leader and hasn’t looked back since.

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At Lake Nakuru National Park, we went on our first game drive safari. Pretty exciting stuff! We saw zebras, water buffalos, gazelles and antelopes.

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The lake is home to both greater and lesser flamingos as well as pelicans.

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We drove to ‘Baboon Cliff’ which is the best vantage point in which to view the lake.  Needless to say why they call it that.

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They may look cute but beneath the surface lies a crafty nature. We were told to lock the doors of our jeep and ensure the windows were all rolled up otherwise the baboons would get in.

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They seemed to have no fear of humans. In fact, the people in this jeep were too scared to get into it. The driver had to jump in, start the car and honk a few times to get the baboon to jump off.

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Despite this, the view from above was worth it.

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The national park is large and it took us 4 hours to complete the drive.

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Many parts of it were how I imagined Africa to look like.

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Even being on an African safari couldn’t keep me from falling asleep during the drive (It’s an old party trick) but at least it was after we saw a couple of white rhinos.

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The next day we drove to another campsite to break up our journey to Uganda. People here are largely unspoilt by civilisation. As we drove through Nakuru town, a man riding a bike rode past us, waved and said ‘Welcome’.

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Children get excited when they see our truck coming, many of them run alongside and wave at us. It’s immensely refreshing.

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The climate here is similar to the weather in Perth. Warm, dry and very bright. It’s amazing what a little sunshine can do for the soul.

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We passed the border into Uganda and stayed in at a hostel in Jinja for the first evening. It was well equipped with a bar and pool table and our group wasted no time in making use of them.

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It was probably the first real chance for us to get to know each other.

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We played pool with some of the locals and got hustled for our small change.

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Meet Nash, the guy who won. His hair is soft and bouncy but it took him a couple of years to grow it to that height.

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Carly decided she had enough of our tame antics and kicked it up a notch.

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Nicole decided she wasn’t going to be outdone and raised the bar even further with her Macarena.

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The next day we travelled to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. We stopped by a supermarket to stock up on food, snacks and toys for the children of an orphanage that we were going to visit.

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Kate and Nicole showed us that Shakira ain’t got nothing on them!

After checking into the Red Chilli Hideaway (campsite/hostel), we headed to the Buganda Road Craft Market for some souvenir shopping.

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It was pretty apparent from the first 5 minutes that all my good intentions not to buy anything were going to fly out the window.

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Bargaining is the norm here but they aren’t pushy.

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The market is run as a women’s co-operative, so it gives the stall holders a degree of financial independence. How could I possibly not support that?

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After shopping, we headed back to the campsite and relaxed over a few drinks.

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Early the next morning, we had breakfast at the equator.

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It wasn’t long to go before our Gorilla trek so I decided to practice my swinging in case one of the gorillas decided to reenact a scene from King Kong.

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From there, we began our journey to Lake Bunyoni. It was a longer drive but one of the nicest yet.

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Uganda is really beautiful country.

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Its landscape is so different to Kenya. It is fondly known as the Switzerland of East Africa because of its lush green rolling countryside.

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Lake Bunyoni is the second highest lake in Africa with 29 islands.

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The overland resort we stayed in is beautiful.

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It has amazing views of the lake.

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The lake is safe for swimming and has jet skiing or canoeing.

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We set up camp by the lake and fell asleep to the sound of the rain beating down on our tents. It was so nice and soothing.

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In case the gorillas didn’t take a fancy to me, I decided to practice an overhead throw.

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The next morning we visited an orphanage run by the Mwendo Needy Children and Orphan Foundation.

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The previous night after dinner, Duncan, a 23 volunteer and co-founder of this particular orphanage came to speak to us about the project.

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Duncan’s story is inspiring. He was sponsored by someone from the UK when he was a child and at the age of 19, he wanted to repay his sponsors.

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He helped set up the Mwendo Needy Children and Orphan Project which looks after over 300 children. Not all of them are orphans, some children’s parents are too poor to look after them.

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It is truly amazing how the actions of one person can have a defining influence on another and in turn, start a ripple effect and contribute to the creation of something as wonderful as this.

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He picked us and all the toys up (note the Chinese writing on the truck, more on that later). We stood in the back of the truck like lambs to the slaughter. I had to pinch myself as we drove as I couldn’t believe that I was in a remote Ugandan town, so far away from home, climbing up a mountain on a bumpy road. It felt liberating.

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The orphanage is presently only several makeshift wooden shacks that each hold about 40 children.

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Their ages range from 3 to 16. They have begun building permanent brick buildings but haven’t raised enough money for it yet.

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We spent some time observing their classes and were given the chance to teach them.

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Carly and I were allocated to the nursery class, where we were able to teach them some English nursery rhymes.

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Unfortunately my repertoire is limited to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Goosey Goosey Gander and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Anyone else notice those 3 rhymes are sung in the same melody?

Several children took turns to show us how well they could count to 20.

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Something about this little girl in particular hit a nerve. She looked so small and vulnerable, even more so because her skirt was too big for her.  I felt myself getting all choked up while I watched her. I fought back the tears as I didn’t want to have to leave the classroom. My tears won’t help these kids.

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After class, we headed into the yard and played games with them. We started off with a couple of group games.

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I was the wolf in ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ and had a turn at being Simon in ‘Simon says’.

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As soon as we stepped out of the classroom, we had kids fighting over us and pulling us in all different directions.

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It was very endearing.

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I had bruises in the shape of fingers marks on my left arm. I don’t bruise easy so I take it as an indication of their love for me!

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My hair was beautifully braided by a group of girls who could not be distracted or dissuaded, even when the others started giving out sweets.

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One of the ways in which you can help is to make a donation, sponsor a child or volunteer.

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Meet Ninsiima Bridget, my sponsor child.

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She was one of the children who clung onto me when I left the classroom and wouldn’t let go even when we were playing games.

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The cost of sponsoring her is less than what I paid for the Gorilla permit or going on a hot air balloon ride. It is a humbling thought.

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A few of the others also sponsored a child.

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If we’re lucky, maybe the kids we sponsor will grow up to be as kind and generous as Duncan.

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Bridget already shows a talent for marketing and advertising. She’s wearing a pen promoting Gilbert’s website.

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If you are interested in finding more about the project, have a look at their website:  http://needychildrenproject.org

After we left the orphanage, Duncan took us back to the campsite via a shortcut that gave us incredible views of the lake. We were all still on a high from our visit to the orphanage.

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Duncan has proved that you can reach for the stars even when you begin with so little. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to reach as high as him.

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Upon our return, Nicole and I rowed out to another island in one of the traditional dug out canoes.

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It’s very different to a normal canoe or a kayak but Nicole and I proved how capable short people are!

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The next day we rose at 4.30am and set off at 5am for our gorilla trek.

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Our group of 11 people were split into 3 groups. I was paired with Angie and the particular family of gorillas that we were allocated to were called the Nkuringo group in Bwindi National park.

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Our family lives in the area that borders the Republic of Congo hence we were the furthest away.

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While the other groups drove for an average of 1 to 1.5 hours, we drove 2.5 hours to our gorilla base camp. Angie and I slept for 1.5 hours in the car before waking up and eating breakfast. It turns out Angie is also a deep sleeper. There was one stage during the car ride where we drove over a massive bump and we apparently flew a couple of inches off the seat. Angie was woken up by the bump and looked over at me but I was still sleeping. Guess I won that round?

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We were definitely the luckiest group despite our 2.5 hour drive. We started trekking at 8.30am, reached the rangers campsite an hour later and within the next 15 minutes, we had found our gorillas.

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Our guide told us that the group from the day walked for 1 hour and 20 minutes so he was expecting us to be at least that long, if not longer.

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Our trackers chopped and hacked a trail through the undergrowth and saved us an hour of walking.

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Frankly I wanted a decent walk as that is part of the anticipation and excitement of searching for the gorillas.

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I was grateful that it wasn’t for any longer though as it was a very warm 30 degrees and the first part of our trek was entirely downhill.

What goes down, must eventually come up!

Even as we approached, I wasn’t aware of how close we were. Our guide pointed out an area that they had nested in.

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I was so fascinated by the size of the poo in the nest that I didn’t quite realise how fresh it was.

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I was taking a photo of it when I heard a low (but loud) grumble ahead of me.

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It stopped me dead in my tracks. I squatted down to get a better look and saw a black shape about 7 metres away.

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There was so much bush that I thought I was imagining things until I heard a louder growl/grumble again. There’s no mistaking the sound.

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At that point we left our backpacks there and made our way through the undergrowth to our family of 18 gorillas.

We were just under 3 metres away and had been watching them for less than 5 minutes when a fight broke out between a couple of the silverbacks (there were 3 of them). I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on but the sound of their snarling and them slapping each other was thunderous and scary.

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It wasn’t until later that our guide told us that a blackback male had tried to mate with a female when a non dominant silverback tried to fight him off. Gorilla social behaviour dictates that only silverbacks are permitted to mate with females.

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What was strange was that the dominant silverback jumped into the foray and fought off the second silverback. It was almost as if he didn’t mind the blackback trying to mate with the female.

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Even the guide said it was very rare for them to see the gorillas fight, let alone for that reason. Usually they only know when a fight has occurred after they already have their wounds.

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That was the first of two fights that we were able to witness. After the first fight had calmed down, one of the trackers was leading me to a clearing where I could get a better view when out of nowhere, the head of a silverback pops out from the tall leaves and comes towards me. I can tell you now, that a much smaller sized human poo was about to grace the ground.

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I was squashed up against the tracker and managed to avoid being brushed by the silverback. It was unbelievably close.

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I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. I probably wouldn’t have been so frightened if I hadn’t previously seen it whack another gorilla.

Our guide and trackers were really excited about the fight. At one point, I wanted to tell them to keep their voices down.

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The permits allow for an hour with the gorillas and they limit the visits for each family to gorillas to 6 to 8 people per day. The proceeds raised from the permits go towards their conservation.

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We managed to see the full family of 18 gorillas. Our tour guide stressed again about how lucky we were that our gorillas were out in the open instead of hidden in the undergrowth or up in trees.

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Others in our group didn’t find their family of gorillas together. They walked for just abit longer than we did and found 5 juvenile males that had been left behind from the main family. One of the blackbacks they were watching had a reputation for being a tad aggressive. There’s footage of him barging into the group and knocking over a British lady. I’ve been told that there wasn’t much sympathy for her though as she was obnoxious and rude to the guide, porters and others in the group. There’s no fooling the gorillas!

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This is the last photo I took before we left. Let me emphasise that I wasn’t planning to get so close. One of the trackers kept pushing me closer to the tree so that I could get a better photo.

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Other people from our group walked for 3.5 hours to find their gorillas and had to walk for another hour as their gorillas were constantly on the move. They left at 5am as well but didn’t return to the camp until 6.45pm.

That evening we took a boat ride to another island for dinner. Some of the group had a big night celebrating but I crashed out early in a nice comfortable cottage.

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The next day, we headed back to Kampala.

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Kampala is a crazy hectic town but we were mostly left alone while we wandered through the street market. I stocked up on my favourite fruit, mangos!

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The rest of the group nicknamed me mangos because I always had some with me. Considering what others were nicknamed, I think I got off lightly.

I decided to take a photo of the Ugandan currency as it’s so pretty and colourful.

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We spent a quiet evening at the Red Chilli Hideaway, with the campsite goats and each other for company.

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The next day we drove into Jinja where we would be based for the next 3 days.

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We had views of the white Nile from our campsite.

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At this point I had only been away for 9 days. When there is no routine in your day, time seems to go slower.

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My days had a lazy feel to them so it gave the impression that I had been travelling for longer. It’s a great feeling.

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The next day, 6 of us went white water rafting. It was the first time for 4 of us including myself.

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I had no clue of what was involved and was surprised that it was risky enough that we would be required to wear helmets.

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This was probably a good thing as I was still smiling as we approached the first rapids.

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The rapids we were on were grade 5 which is the highest grade you can go before it becomes professional.

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We did some safety drills and went through what to do if we fell into the water and how to get back onto the raft. Piece of cake when the water is calm and still.

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We survived our first rapid with hardly a splash! Our tour leader told us it was a grade 5 but in hindsight, I think he may have been lying. At the time, I remember thinking to myself that it was going be to a long day if all the rapids were as uneventful as that one.

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On the next rapid, we made the choice to go down the biggest part of the rapid. Our guide said that it means we would definitely flip over. Happy with our decision and confident in our paddling skills, we approached the rapids with gusto!

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Nothing quite prepares you for the sensation of being on a sinking ship. One minute I was laughing as we were knocked around by the rapids, the next minute I was in the river, no longer laughing but still with my mouth open.

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Since we were wearing lifejackets, there was no issue with us not resurfacing. What you can’t control (or at least I couldn’t) was where I resurfaced.

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After that first flip, I found myself under the raft. It took awhile for me to get into the area where the air pockets were. I kept coming up under the seat and finding myself still submerged in water. It was quite scary as you are scrambling for air and the rapids make it harder to get your bearing.

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I was finally able to get into the space between the seats but unfortunately my helmet was too big for me and was blocking my airway (A rather inopportune time to find that out, if I do say so myself)

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I tilted my head far back and gulped for air. That was fine, panic over and crisis diverted.  I was determined to stay there and breathe for awhile but alas, Cristen saw my hand gripping onto the outside of the raft, thought I was in a spot of trouble and tried to drag me to her. I tried to stay where I was and she kept dragging me underwater. After swallowing more water I decided I would just have to try and swim underneath and resurface to where she was.

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I resurfaced outside the raft and came face to face with a pale and panicked Carly. She had also been stuck underneath the raft and was taking deep breaths. The expression on her face mirrored how I felt. Perhaps it showed as Gilbert asked me if I was alright in quite an urgent tone. I would have answered him but I was still digesting all the parasites that I swallowed so I just nodded and attempted a grimace.

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Chris was swept away by the current and I could see his helmet in the distance. He was holding onto his oar and doggy paddling. It was such a funny sight to see.

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We survived and lived to tell the tale however the day was far from over.

At our second rapid, we were trying our best NOT to flip over but a massive wave pushed our boat vertical. It was completely unexpected. All I remember was flying out of the boat. I lost my paddle, which err.. I’ve been told to hang onto, and resurfaced about 10 metres away from the main raft.

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The current rapidly swept me out a further 15 metres but a safety kayak was at my side within seconds. I found myself next to Carly and Gilbert.

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The 3 of us were picked up by the emergency safety raft. The others said they looked for us but by the time they resurfaced we were so far away there was nothing they could do.

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Even though I was unprepared for the flip, I didn’t have to struggle for air once I came up so I enjoyed this flip so much more. It is so exhilarating! Part of the thrill is not knowing where you are going to end up.

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I think the definite advantage to being short (when white water rafting) is not knowing what lies ahead.

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Our guide kept using the expression ‘run the falls’. It was probably all the water I swallowed but I didn’t put two and two together until it was too late.

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I was so ready to be flipped that it was almost a disappointment when we didn’t. However the feeling of freaking out once I was finally able to see over Gilbert’s head (because we were already half way down the waterfall !) and not knowing whether we were going to completely wipe out was thrilling enough for me.

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When we finally reached the calm part of the Nile, a couple of us jumped into the river for a swim.

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Swimming in the Nile river was definitely a highlight. I had a ‘Pinch me’ moment, an experience so surreal that I need to be pinched to make sure I’m not dreaming. I learnt about the river Nile while in school and to be there, in the flesh, 15 – 20 years later (I can’t remember which grade I was in when I learnt about it) was just too marvellous for words.

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Unfortunately Gil took the expression ‘pinch me’ quite literally and decided to apply it at random points in time to Angie and I throughout the trip.

Before I departed London, my parents passed on a message from my Aunt. I believe it went something like this, ‘Don’t swim in the Nile, there’s a documentary on Foxtel about people who swam in the Nile and swallowed parasites that laid maggots inside their bodies’.

At the time I thought the notion was ludricrous.  My response was very disdainful and it sounded something like, ‘ Do I look like someone who would just randomly swim in dirty crocodile infested water?’

Well, I guess you have your answer!

That day we flipped a total of 3 times, with our last flip on the very last rapid. What a way to end the day!

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The next morning, 4 of us headed to a school being refurbished by the Soft Power Education Project.

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First we were given a grand tour of one of the primary schools that had been recently refurbished.

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Upon our arrival at the school in which we were to help paint, we were greeted by a sea of eager faces.

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I can tell you now it is one of the most beautiful sights to behold. A throng of children dressed in bright yellow school uniforms, making them all the more radiant because of the contrast to their skin colour. They don’t know us, they don’t judge us, they are just happy that we’re there.

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The 4 of us combined our efforts with a few other volunteers and we spent the next 4 hours painting the school.

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It’s amazing how much our group effort accomplished.

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It was really good to be doing something productive. It feels like we’re giving something back to this amazing country that has shown us so much hospitality.

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One of the principal members of the Soft Power Education Project also has a bookshop near our campsite. For reasons beyond my understanding, he chose to advertise his shop in the most eye catching way.

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I sat in the front with him when he drove us back to his campsite. He was in the midst of telling me that China is now the biggest investor in Uganda and many other parts of Africa when I fell asleep.

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That evening, the rest of group went on a Booze cruise down the Nile while I had my first ever pedicure (and believe me I needed it!). Our driver James and I were invited to dinner at a local woman’s house and I thought it would be a wonderful way to get some insight into the life of a local Ugandan.

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The lady of the house, who I’ll call Mama, cooked us braised chicken in a soupy broth with rice and ugali which is a traditional Kenya staple made out of sweet potato or maize flour. Her house was too small for us to sit down and eat in so we ate out on the lawn. She refused to eat until her guests had finished their first plate. Apparently that is customary.

From Jinja, we headed back into Kenya to Lake Naivasha.

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Maybe it was because we had such a brilliant time at Jinja but the drive to Lake Naivasha, despite being long, felt wonderful.

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At Lake Naivasha, we went on a walking safari in Hells Gate National Park. It is one of the few national parks that you can walk in.

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Angie and I always said that if we were to do over our careers, she would be a travel photographer and I would be a travel writer. I’m going to pay homage to her photographic prowess by including some of photos in this blog.

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I was the only person in the group who didn’t take a photo of the giraffe below. It’s not because I didn’t see it but because I thought it was a fake!

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We were quite far away from it (Angie has great zoom on her camera) and it hadn’t moved a single iota for 10 whole minutes! Not to mention it was a different colour to the rest of the giraffes in the area. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why everyone was taking photos of it….until it walked away. What a waste of a photo opportunity!

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At least another, normal coloured giraffe was happy to oblige me.

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The national park had plenty of zebras, giraffes and antelopes.

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There was no danger of me falling asleep since we were constantly on our feet but I did feel like I was melting.

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There was no respite from the sun.

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In the afternoon, we went for a boat ride across Lake Naivasha.

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I nearly opted out of it as we were going just after lunch in the heat of the day but decided I couldn’t possibly miss out on the opportunity of seeing hippos because of a little heat.

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By the time we got out there, the sun had disappeared behind some clouds.

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The boat ride really made my day.

It’s reminded me of how much I love being out on the water, whether its swimming or sailing.

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The lake was so calm and serene so there was no danger of getting motion sickness.

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Lake Naivasha is home to many species of bird as well as a sizeable number of hippos.

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Hippos are very aggressive, territorial animals despite their super cute appearance so boats have to stay at least 20 metres away from them at all times

While birds aren’t my favourite animals to watch, I loved the pelicans.

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It wasn’t long before we spotted our first group of hippos.

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For the most part, it was only the top parts of their heads that were showing.

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This is because they sleep during the day and feed at night.

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Angie was able to get a really good photo.

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Sadly, that evening was our last night together as a group. We kicked off the night by playing drinking games, singing Grease lightning and Wonderwall and telling Geoff and James how great they were. Alcohol is very cheap here. Most of the group pick up alcohol any chance they get.  A bottle of Smirnoff Vodka (big bottle) is US $15. Some people have bought bottles to bring back to Australia.

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We finished off the night dancing at the resort’s disco. There was alot of podium dancing and screeching at the top of our lungs. No big night out is complete without it’s set of shenanigans, dramas or puking but nevertheless it was such a fun night.

The next morning we made a beeline for the buffet breakfast before heading out for another boat trip in the hopes of seeing more hippos.

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I found that I was still ridiculously happy to be out on the water, far more than when I’m out walking and seeing the countryside.

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I didn’t know that before so I’m learning all sorts of things about myself on this trip.

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This boat ride was slightly more eventful than the previous day. We saw more hippos including one that was out of the water. Angie managed to get a photo of a smiling hippo.

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Our boat driver ventured a little too close to a family of hippos that had a baby hippo. Angie had noticed one hippo in particular with its eyes on us and she wondered why it kept bobbing its head underwater and resurfacing again.

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I hadn’t noticed anything so I got a severe shock when the hippo who had been eyeing us went under water and suddenly reared its massive head high out of the water and charged through the water towards us.

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The driver of our boat frantically tried to turn the boat around and get us away as quickly as possible, which he managed to successfully do but the hippo got incredibly close. I was frozen in disbelief. In fact we all were!

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While I was initially able to take a few photos, at this point, I was making preparations to save my camera in case the boat was toppled over. To my horror, our boat driver simply turned the boat back after the hippo had returned and said that the hippo was just testing us to see if we would retreat.

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That afternoon, it was time to say our goodbyes.

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Chris has a more direct way of showing that he cares for someone.

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After a few teary goodbyes, Angie, Kate, Gilbert and I made our way to a different campsite to meet up with our new group and travelling partners for the next 11 days.

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I can’t define why I cry when I have to say goodbye. Sometimes it’s because someone else starts crying first (thanks Nicole!), often it’s because I’m attached to the person I’m saying goodbye to and many times, it’s because saying goodbye also represents the end of something wonderful. However, as the saying goes, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

 

We met up with our new group at another campsite in Lake Naivasha.  The new members were made up of Dan, Nick and Michael from Canberra (two brothers plus their cousin) and Laura from England.

We met our new tour leader (Mwangi), driver (Patrick) and cook (Noah). All 3 hail from Kenya.  I think we have lucked out on this trip as we have REALLY good meals prepared for us.

That first evening, Kate & Gilbert (who are always playing pranks) convinced me to pretend that I was from mainland China and could hardly speak a word of English. This was a real struggle for me as I can’t speak Mandarin let alone mimic a mainland Chinese accent

I spent the next couple of hours speaking to them in a mixed Singlish/Cantonese accent and pretending not to understand them. I thought about throwing in a few Japanese phrases picked up from countless anime episodes but I was worried that someone in the new group would be able to tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese (later on I found out there was someone who was familiar with Japanese lingo)

It had us in stitches and I nearly choked from laughing so hard when the tour guide couldn’t figure out why his records showed that I had a British passport. In the end, I couldn’t handle it anymore and let the new guys on the joke without telling Kate & Gilbert that I had told them.

Over dinner, Kate & Gilbert continued talking to me as if I couldn’t speak much English. I let them carry on as I was enjoying watching their attempt to fool people already clued into the joke.

After another hour or so, I made a big show of struggling with the accent and declared that I couldn’t go on with the charade. Kate & Gilbert took great pleasure in letting the new people know it was all one big joke when Laura piped up to say that they already knew and the joke was on them. I knew at that point that Laura and I were going to get along swimmingly.

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If only I had a camera to capture the look on Kate, Gil and Angie’s face. It was priceless. It was a little bit of payback for them letting me drink chilli flavoured tea under the pretence that it was a special tea called ‘Daintree’ from the Northern Territory.

Since we had another day at Lake Naivasha, we decided to go horse riding.

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It’s been years since I’ve been on a horse so I was grateful to have given a very docile and well trained horse.

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Earlier that morning, we went on another boat ride. This time to get to a different island.

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I’m happy to report that we had no territorial hippos eyeballing us. While we maintained a respectful distance, we saw even more hippos than the previous boat ride.

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After the last run in with them, I wasn’t sure if I still liked them as much as I did when I first started. They may be cute but they really need to work on their attitude!

From Lake Naivasha, we made our way to the Masai Mara for some big game viewing. On the way we stopped by a Masai village.

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The Masai are among the most well known of the African tribes. Masai warriors traditionally dress in fierce red clothing.

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They performed a warrior welcome dance for us before inviting the guys to join them on a jumping dance.

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Who ever said white men can’t jump?

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We posed for a few more pictures before the Masai women performed their welcome dance.

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The Masai women were dressed in bold, bright colours.

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Once they led us into their village, they demonstrated their prowess with their weapons and how to make fire from two sticks of wood.

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We were also shown the inside of a traditional Masai hut.

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On the way to the Masai Mara, Angie took a stunning photo of children in the fields. It is my favourite photo of hers and I want as many people as possible to enjoy it.

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We didn’t see much on our first game drive through the Masai Marai, mainly a few elephants, lots of antellopes and gazelles as well as a few warthogs.

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That night, we camped in the reserve and were guarded at night by Masai warriors. I slept soundly but I know a few people didn’t get much sleep as they kept hearing hyenas and baboons during the night.

Early the next morning we went on a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Marai.

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We were fortunate to get the hot air balloon up in time for sunrise.

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We were supposed to be game viewing but I was too captivated by the views of the horizon.

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The balloon ride went for an hour.

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In terms of game viewing, it wasn’t the best value for money (although we were probably just unlucky) but it was an experience worth doing.

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The view from below was pretty colourful too.

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Our balloon landed in the middle of the reserve and we were served champagne buffet breakfast.

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This is another one of Angie’s artistic shots that I felt compelled to include on my blog.

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There was PLENTY of food! Bacon, eggs, sausages, pancakes, potatoes, baked beans, croissants, yoghurt and fruit salad.

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My first plate was pretty jam packed but I managed to fit in a second helping of bacon and potatoes and a third helping of potatoes.

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I ate so much that I didnt end up having any lunch and didn’t even feel hungry at dinner. I still ate dinner though as it looked too good to pass up.

Before we left, Angie took a photo of Kate, Gilbert, Laura and myself. Alot of work went into our posing and the end result looked like a cover of an album.

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What should we call our band?

After breakfast, we headed to the pool to lounge around and ended up falling asleep.

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I woke up at noon and jumped into the pool for a swim.

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In the afternoon, we went on another game drive.

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This one was far more fruitful as we saw we saw lions, elephants, water buffalos and 3 cheetahs.

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I’m partial to felines so I’ve posted quite a few photos of them on my blog.

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Cheetahs are the fastest land animal. They are capable of running up to 60 miles an hour (96 kms) in 3 seconds.

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We also saw a lone black rhino walking across the plane and a few warthogs.

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The black rhino is considered one of the big five but the white rhino isn’t. The way to tell the difference is by the shape of its lip. The black rhino has a hooked lip where the white rhino has a square lip.

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What cartoon springs to mind when you see a warthog?

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Our game drive ended on a high note as the sunset was simply spectacular!

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We headed back to Nairobi for a couple nights of rest and relaxation before heading to Tanzania. The first night we had a few drinks and played a board game called 30 seconds, which is similar to quite similar to Taboo.

The next morning, we went to the elephant orphanage.

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The elephant orphanage in Nairobi is the most successful one in Africa.

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Elephants are intelligent, emotional animals with a good memory. The most important thing to a baby elephant is its mother and its extended family. Female elephants are particularly vulnerable after having lost their family.

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An orphaned elephant may often witness the death of its family, whether its by natural means or by poaching.

When raising and nurturing a young orphaned elephant, its important to take care of its mind as well as its physical health so that they grow up psychologically stable and will be welcomed into wild herds upon reintroduction.

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Human keepers will substitute for the orphan’s lost family. They stay with them for 24 hours a day including sleeping alongside them within their stable at night.

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Keepers rotate so that a different keeper sleeps with a different elephant each night in order to avoid any strong attachment to just one person.

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Playtime is also an important part of the healing process.

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Their antics made me laugh. The crowd was playfully splashed with mud by the baby elephants. If you decide to visit the orphanage, don’t wear white.

In the evening, we headed to the Carnivores restaurant with our group leader.

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It is an open air restaurant that offers buffet meat.

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The meat is skewered on Maasai swords and cooked on coals, and the meat is served on cast-iron plates.

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All respect for the 3 guys from Canberra for their ability to consume large quantities of food.

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Our next destination was Amboseli National Park, which is famed for elephants.

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These 3 in particular, came up close and personal. They walked right up to our truck and then went on to cause a traffic jam.

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It’s the type of traffic jam that doesn’t cause road rage.

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Angie took a fantastic shot of some baby elephants from a wild herd. I love her camera! Prior to the trip, she was going to invest in a Nikon but was pleasantly surprised when her father bought her a Canon powershot with telephoto lens for birthday. Smart man!

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The drive to and away from Amboseli National Park produced some magnificent scenery.

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The park gives a great view of Mt Kilimanjaro, which is Africa’s highest mountain.

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It stands at 5895m and on a clear day, you can see the snow at the top of the mountain.

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At the entrance to our campsite in Arusha, we were greeted by Masai woman and their wares.

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Gil decided to practice the art of bartering.

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Um…. his technique may need some work.

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The Eating clan from Canberra were content to snooze.

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I found it interesting that we saw many more Masai along the sides of the road in Tanzania than in Kenya.

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From what I could see on our drive to the Serengeti, Tanzania has a different landscape to both Kenya and Uganda. It feels more cultivated.

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The Serengeti, meaning ‘endless plains’ is a well deserved name. It spans over 30,000 sq km and is flat as the eye can see in most parts.

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It hosts the largest mammal migration in the world. (Close up photo of Heart Beast was taken by Angie)

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I wasn’t overly impressed with the Serengeti despite us having seen a couple of leopards and a pride of lions.

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What I did enjoy was the sunrise.

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My favourite game drive and national park/reserve was the Ngorongoro Crater.

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The Ngorongoro Crater was formed 2 – 3 million years ago when a volcano exploded. It has a rich and diverse eco system.

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The drive through the Ngorongoro conservation area to the rim of the crater was very bumpy and dusty but produced the most beautiful views.

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It was difficult to take pictures when the ride was so bumpy however I managed a couple of nice shots.

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I suspect by the end of the trip, Angie wanted to throw it all in and become part of the Masai tribe.

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I decided to nickname her ‘the yellow haired warrior’ (think Kill Bill).

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We set up camp at the rim of the crater. It was definitely one of the more congested campsites.

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When I say congested, I mean we had some extra large creatures sharing the facilities with us.

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I was told off for standing too close to the wild elephant so I moved behind the car.

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I’m not entirely sure how much protection the car would have afforded me if the elephant decided to charge.

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We saw plenty of animals in the Ngorongoro crater.

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It is much smaller than the Masai Mara and the Serengeti so it gives off the impression that there is a greater concentration of animals. I loved how the wildebeast and the zebras roamed together.

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We saw a plentitude of zebras on the trip and the more I saw them, the more I liked them. Their stripes are reportedly meant to act as a camouflage or confusion mechanism, particularly as zebras usually move in large herds.

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Do you think zebras are white with black stripes? or black with white stripes?

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Driving around the floor of the crater felt surreal to me. It was as if I were in the movie ‘Jurassic Park’.

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I had all the wonder of it but none of the terror. It’s so lush, green and I felt as if we were viewing the animals in their most intimate environment.

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Towards the end of the drive, we came across a pride of lions.

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One of the lionesses was stalking zebras so we were hoping that we would see them hunt.

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Sadly we weren’t that lucky however a cub did walk into a little grove under the road in front of our truck.

The lioness that had been hunting got bored and walked back towards the rest of the pride.

On its way, it stopped in between a couple of the safari jeeps in front of us. How I wished I could have been in one of the jeeps in front!

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It was a fitting way to end our last game drive, after which we made our way back to Arusha.

At one of the toilet stops along the way back, we saw a lizard decked out in my two favourite colours.

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Angie took the only photo of men from a different nomadic African tribe.

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The roads of Tanzania (at least the roads that lead the way to tourist attractions) are littered with souvenir and curio shops.

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I loved watching the African women walk around with large bags or boxes on their head. It’s a skill and comes from necessity. The majority of the women I saw didn’t have to hold onto their goods.

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Alas! Our final night in Africa has come and it’s time to say farewell.

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My trip was so much more than I could have hoped for. I went there expecting to be amazed by the dramatic landscapes and the wild animals. I knew I was going to enjoy the warm and sunny climate. I just didn’t anticipate the extent to which I would be charmed by its people.

Africa is all heart and I’ve left a piece of my heart there.

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