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"The first 100 meters up was fine".......


A great story, wonderfully written. I will make a note not to do this climb (morning or afternoon) but I enjoyed reading about it and seeing your photos. Especially good seeing the vultures at their level. The tent did look particularly tiny, but I imagine you were so tired you could sleep anywhere.

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7 hours ago, TonyQ said:

"The first 100 meters up was fine".......


A great story, wonderfully written. I will make a note not to do this climb (morning or afternoon) but I enjoyed reading about it and seeing your photos. Especially good seeing the vultures at their level. The tent did look particularly tiny, but I imagine you were so tired you could sleep anywhere.


Well I am not saying I would do it again (although having no time with the birds in decent light remains a frustrating itch that I want to scratch)  but Ian and Robert really took good care of me and anyone who is half fit and can handle 1000 meters of steps without requiring an airlift could do it relatively easily (although I am not going to say painlessly unless you are properly fit and do a fair bit of mountain hiking) . You could always take the helicopter to the top option.


in fact I should probably stress how good Ian and Robert were here. They did everything for us and it was really interesting to get to know them better. People who have a basic understanding of mountains, heat, endurance and camping out (i.e most here) should not hesitate to use Sabache as a base for the climb - they do this well and cheaply. One of Dipa's (manager of the camp, but not really owner as it belongs to the community) cousins is apparently the go-to guide for this, but even the kids did a decent job. If you are concerned about looking after yourself on a mountain then (although there is no real climbing - cows get up these paths) it would be easy enough to take a guide from Saruni (in which case the clmb is broken up by a full on bush breakfast and lunch) do it as an energetic activity and any good walking guide could do it. Most would use Sabache anyway though. 






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Posted (edited)

So, back to chronological order now.......


I don’t remember when I first heard of the singing wells of northern Kenya, but I kept on hearing about them from time to time. It seemed surprisingly few people had visited them but I suspected the general veto on photography made them a personal memory and not so easy to share, so perhaps they have more visitors than I realised. Actually of course there is no complete veto on photography. It’s something most Samburu do every 2-3 days as a practical survival measure – like eating their dinner, bathing and bleeding their cattle – and I always thought taking a photograph of it could be no more difficult than getting a photograph of someone eating their dinner. Except errr…. that isn’t so easy or comfortable is it?


“Hi stranger. We’re unimaginably wealthy tourists from a country where everyone has so much money they get totally stressed out wondering how to spend it (cows are not usually an option). We totally respect you and your culture (except of course how you treat your women, and your children, and some other minor things – and your eating and personal hygiene habits are totally gross, of course) and we would really like to take photos of you eating your dinner and bathing.”


I wonder what my reaction would be. I think I can see a potential issue. And people often seem to resolve this issue by having either a “look but don’t photograph” or a “just pay more money until they agree” policy (aka the Indecent Proposal approach). With the singing wells  - known I believe to the Samburu by the ancient name “providing water for your livestock so that is doesn’t die today” - the “no photographs” policy is most common, partially because the Samburu usually don’t bother with swimming costumes and partially I think because, for some reason, the “Indecent Proposal” approach makes most thoughtful and respectable people involved in the tourism industry throw up. In fact I believe photographing the locals in general (other than those in the tourism industry) is quite frowned on in Namunyak Conservancy, at least with foreign tourists who have no idea that they may be helping to create this “money for pictures” thing that quickly gets ridiculous, annoying and even dangerous.


So we were on our way to visit the singing wells. Dipa, the manager of Sabache Camp, had appeared and he was a much more experienced person than anyone we had met so far. He was also a very busy person with quite a lot of responsibility and plenty of meetings to attend re security in the area and other quite important stuff. We knew that because his American wife had told us and because he very regularly had to take calls. But we felt it – there was knowledge that he might at some point have to choose between entertaining us and perhaps going to stop a dispute turning into a gunfight. Not that we can excuse him totally, but we can understand. When Dipa was around at Sabache things seemed to run very smoothly. With only Ian things got a bit bumpy sometimes but it was usually okay – you just had to know Ian a bit (as you do now) but he’s a good lad. Without either, it was often fingers crossed and potluck.


But efficiency at Sabache Camp is not relevant to the singing wells. What was relevant was that Dipa is someone, Dipa was well armed (and not to protect his cattle from predators as Mum assumed) and Dipa is together and experienced leading tourism activities. An activity with Dipa had no detours, inappropriate campfire conversations or issues with basic definitions.


Anyway, I didn’t really know what to expect from the singing wells visit. I had my cameras but no idea how and if I could use them or of any rules there might be lines perhaps we shouldn’t cross.  I thought at least I can photograph the scenery or photograph things on the periphery perhaps. There was no “the singing wells are blah blah blah…” explanatory script, although Zarek and Dipa may well have provided a few explanatory words to Mum and of course we could ask any questions we wanted. It was more like we were just all going on a drive somewhere. We got to “somewhere”, which of course was in the middle of nowhere (we knew it was somewhere because Dipa told us so) and walked for a short while across a long since dry, sandy riverbed and then through the trees on its “bank”. On the other side of those trees was another long since dry, sandy riverbed that had some human activity. The activity would grow significantly over the next couple of hours, so we had definitely timed our arrival perfectly – hardly surprising since this was Dipa’s gang – his mzee homies would be along shortly.




Donkeys were drinking from troughs made by cutting a plastic barrel in half when we arrived. They were minded by one young woman, who was filling containers that would later be attached to the backs of some of the donkeys who were drinking – to provide water for the manyatta I presume, or for those our with the livestock who didn’t come in today. The other donkeys were not allowed to drink until later, because once they had drunk their fill they would probably just wander off and skip work for the day.




The woman had a sweet smile, and was a little shy but not overly so. My Mum and wife were completely taken with her and declared her the most beautiful woman they had ever met. Unfortunately I don’t have any really good photos of her because this was just after we arrived and I did not want to start shooting yet, even though Dipa said I could. In my experience walking in and straight away pointing a camera at someone is absolutely the right way to (i) make clear that you view people as curiosities rather than having any real fascination (ii) spark demands for money for photos if there is any likelihood of that happening and (iii) disappoint your hosts greatly. So I kept my hands off the camera at first and checked out what was what. Fortunately with Bibi, Mrs K, Zarek and Job all buzzing around doing stuff and asking questions, once I had done the being respectful bit it became clear that I could take photos without anyone bothering much – well within reason. As time went on, people became more and more comfortable with it, although I never stayed on a subject for long and I always limited my shooting time in general. Shoot some, talk some, watch some, laugh some – not necessarily in that order. The fact my A7RII shoots completely silently did not hurt either, although I deliberately tried not to hide the fact I was taking shots. Zarek was similar, and even took some video. This is my view though, and of course it could have been that some people were extremely unimpressed with me. I will never know, although I do not think so. I accidentally took a picture of a naked man once – digging a well further along in the river bed, but otherwise I think I behaved myself.





Anyway, that is a lot of talk for little photography really. My main goal was shots of everybody getting down with the water drawing. First Job and my wife got in the chain – I think Job even got his shirt off and got down to the first level of the well at one point in his enthusiasm. Mum was content to watch and so she features a lot less here.




Everybody's welcome.



The actual drawing of water up from the well was never going to be as spectacular as it can be at this time of year, soon after the rains. The wells can get fairly deep and at some spots I believe then a number of moran will come together to draw water for all of the different cattle and other livestock and this is when they have to sing to their animals to draw them in.  Fortunately, because it was a very dry year, we did get at least a taste of what it is all about. At first there were two in the well and then as the water level sank as they drew water the chain grew to three. As they have to dig deeper to get to the water, it will grow to four, five and even many more.  As people bring their cattle (or the ones they are responsible for) down to drink they will offer to help and jump in if somebody wants a breather or the chain is getting a bit short. They also help to separate the cattle who have already drunk from those who have not done so yet. The singing is apparently to the cattle, but it pretty obviously also serves the function of a work song – rhythmic as well as pretty. The songs are really good and extremely catchy – one was in my ears for hours afterwards.  Of course none of our party were able to keep up the spped of extraction of water needed once the larger cattle got to the troughs. This is hard, hard work.


I kind of wish I’d jumped in like Job, but I think I did the right thing making sure Mum and my wife have decent pictures to remember it all by – although I don’t think they will forget anyway.  Plus, like it said it looked like hard work.


Hard work but a socal occasion too.






Dipa put in a good shift at the head - possibly for his own cows.




But it was the morani who did the bulk - at quite a pace.




As the morning wore on more and more people arrived and went and some stayed – usually an mzee (elder) coming for a chinwag with Dipa and his peers




Mum sat in the shade and soon that was a popular spot for all the wazee (plural of mzee) so we got a group photo together. Credit to Zarek for taking advantage of the silent shutter and shooting after the posing was over as well as during it – this is by far the best shot and only me and Job (who knew about the silent shutter) look a bit posed, or at least expecting a photograph. 



Everyone was very nice to us and welcoming, although some of course preferred to keep their distance. We could all just wander around and talk (with help but we had three translators) although Mum and my wife preferred the shade once the sun got hot. With Dipa around it was all very natural and casual and I guess we are a pretty relaxed bunch anyway – except for when we are not, like the night before!  Job was totally into helping look after the cattle. He had his short back on now, but he was enjoying it a lot. I think Zarek had a great time too. I mention that not to suggest they were inattentive (they were not) but to emphasise what a great experience this was.





My wife found some Sodom Apples that were much bigger than the ones we generally see around in Bangkok – in fact we found an apple tree. This seemed to please her more than it should, but it was that kind of morning – everything was pleasing, every bad joke was hilarious, everyone was a friend.

In the shade





Of course the guns were a reminder that it isn’t all roses here - not at all - as was the realization that after drinking these cattle would walk a long way to find grass, returning here for water in two days and probably permanently on the move in between. Not even the donkeys could find anything to feed on near the wells. Those guns were pretty routine and not for our protection in particular by the way – well maybe a little bit with Dipa’s but I doubt it. Imagine you have to carry a gun around to protect your cattle and those of your neighbours from armed gangs of cattle rustlers. I did and it was a sobering thought.









I think we spent two hours at the well, but it was kind of timeless, if you know what I mean, and we would have been welcome to stay longer. It was getting hot though and Bibi doesn’t thrive in heat anymore. She wanted a shower too, and this time she got one.



Edited by pault
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This seems to be quite a special part of the trip. I really appreciated your comments on the discomfort around the watching others and photographing them in a context like this,. I have not been to the wells but have often felt awkward about this sort of thing. I imagine your genuine interest helped as well as the presence of Dipa.


I remember some years ago being coerced into visiting one of the Maasai villages in the Mara. I realised it was very commercial but on arrival but found it interesting. I also found it very embarrassing when others in the group refused to inside and look and hear about their lives. When I came out of the cow 'bedroom' I had cattle dung on my camera bag, all par for the course really.


Thoroughly enjoying all of this @pault even if you were beset by problems intermittently. Makes for a jolly good story supported by some lovely images. Looking forward to the next bit!



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Posted (edited)

This is fascinating thank you for taking time to tell us the 'real' story @pault.  Our upcoming trip to Kenya includes the Aberdares, Samburu and the Mara so reading your words brings it that little bit closer. Pen

Edited by penolva
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@pault A nerdy question if I may.


Your photos are all very bright and clear. Were you shooting JPEGS or RAW?


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1 hour ago, Soukous said:

@pault A nerdy question if I may.


Your photos are all very bright and clear. Were you shooting JPEGS or RAW?



You may! (Puts on thick glasses) RAW. Why do you ask? I find this comment and question interesting.

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Job was totally into helping look after the cattle. He had his short back on now, but he was enjoying it a lot.


Just to clarify, this should be "shirt" and not "shorts". Job kept his shorts on at all times. :D

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great report - love the serval shots in the Aberdares. Iv'e always liked that park and surprised it doesnt appear on more itineraries (may be because both the Ark and Treetops are now very dated)

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We had wanted today to be a pretty active day, and had discussed possibilities with Zarek at various times. We had kind of hoped to go for a drive to see what we could see, but Dipa had told Zarek that (i) there were not really enough driving tracks in the area – something he said he wanted to fix – and it was quite a long way to anywhere else in Namunyak worth driving for wildlife. In fact he said they were currently taking guests down the road to Kalama Conservancy if they wanted to look for wildlife. That was of no interest to us as we would be spending 4 nights at Saruni in Kalama Conservancy after this. (ii) It was so dry at the moment and had been for so long that wildlife was really difficult to see. That was just our bad luck – in fact in June after the rains should have been good in the conservancies, but this year it wasn’t. One thing we could have done in theory was drive up further north and head into the Matthews Range, towards where Kitich or Sarara camps are – but that would be too far for a half day drive and there were a number of unknowns about it.  Another time we might have done it as an adventure - it would surely be one - but there wasn’t really time (next day I had the climb in the afternoon) and so we (I say “we” but mean “I” as most of this was an internal monologue, I admit) had to give this idea up. Another time this would be an option and so would night drives near the camp. Of course I cannot now comment on how good an option. Again I admit I was disappointed about this, but like the storms in China that delayed our flight it was not something anybody could have done much about, and Mum was a limiting factor since she isn’t as spry as she was back in 2012 and does need a bit of consideration now – from time to time.

So for the afternoon we had decided to visit a village. Village visits are generally a pretty unnatural and no longer appealing experience but since game drives were now off the menu as a viable option and Mum was very keen, then that is what we would do.

Meanwhile back at the camp, we found that the repairman was trying to fix the plumbing. He would be there most of the day and he did manage to get it more or less right. Personally though, I think they should really switch to bucket showers and long drop, sand toilets. It might not look as good on the web site to some eyes but it is much more reliable and practical and for a group like ours it would have removed a lot of problems.  As it is, you may have noticed I had no problems – luck seemed to be on my side and conspiring against my Mum and wife.

People at Sabache Camp are helpful and nice and everything is there – morning coffee at your tent, charging facilities, decent (if basic) food, nice views and a really pleasant, peaceful environment. It just takes a couple of days to get used to the way things work (or don’t) and by then you’re gone. I feel a bit obliged to write a Tripadvisor review for this camp (rare are my Tripadvisor reviews!) because the only one currently there is uncharitable – although it sort of tries not to be. We never thought of leaving. Accommodation was comfortable. When there is any water in the area at all, there will be pools in a rocky lugga next to the camp at which animals come to drink ( just like I guess there would normally have been at the pool Ian took us to on our infamous game drive) and there would likely be a lot of birds. The worst you will likely have to deal with is the plumbing and I think I have given you all the information you need to do that. I should add that you might need to flush a couple of times too.


Dipa had gone off to a meeting somewhere so Ian took us to the village. As with the mountain, Ian was so much more at home with this activity and was quite an effective translator and guide. None of my funny stories relate to him this time. Bibi distinguished herself and hogged the limelight as only she can, but overall the visit was more fun than funny.

The village isn’t visited much and certainly does not exist for tourists or something. It is just a manyatta like any other you see as you drive through or fly over the area (fly, as it is way off the main road). Women, dogs, kids and a couple of old men. A few seemed to have walked over from other manyattas, but that in itself isn’t unnatural when there are visitors to see, numbers to make up and potentially a bit of money to be made (we were never pushed at all, but there was a mat covered in the ladies’ very best craftwork just in case we did want to buy a souvenir).

First clue that this manyatta didn’t get a lot of tourist traffic was that the kids ran for it as soon as we got out of the car, some of them breaking into tears when we started to walk after them. We could have been the child catchers from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and got no less reaction. I was immediately ready to blame Zarek and his beard – pretty scary stuff for a 5-year old Samburu for sure – but to be honest they weren’t any less terrified of me. Although they calmed down a bit once they had got hold of their mothers’ legs, most of them reacted like they had a 7 meter restraining order out on me. “No closer, mzungu or I snivel and bawl!” I’m normally pretty good with the rural kids (if I say so myself) and can put them at ease and engage them, but it was impossible work here. I decided it was best to let it be when one of the mothers gave me a look that seemed to ask whether I had done or said something. Job of course was much less scary and had no difficulty catching a few.

Only one kid didn;t run immediately. The little one with the dreadlocks is bawling at this point.



Everbody hiding now, safe from wazungu predators.



After a slightly nervous greeting song (a bit awkward both sides, but it did break the ice) Ian took us into one of the huts. My wife and I had visited one of these or similar a number of times and of course all three of us had slept in something very similar in Tanzania. Those of the Samburu are particularly small and cramped too, so I got out at an early opportunity, left my wife to look after Bibi and wandered around myself, smiling at people and failing miserably to win over the children. Eventually (either Ian had had a lot to say or Bibi had had a lot of questions) they emerged, looking like you might expect after too long in a very confined space.


Safe with Mums



Some initial awakwardness






The women of the manyatta had mostly relaxed by now and after a brief discussion broke into a song that sounded a lot like they were singing “Mama”. I am not sure if that was exactly what they were singing but it sounded similar enough that I told Bibi they were singing for her and she’d better get in there. Reluctantly at first, she did, and from the photos I think the Samburu women might have enjoyed it more than Bibi – although at peak “Bibi Wild”, as pictured in a previous post, I think she was having quite a lot of fun too.



Afterwards, having had time to reflect on what had happened, she was cursing me a bit and having less fun than a minute earlier getting her breath back and trying to open her water bottle. Don’t worry, I did it for her immediately after the shot. There are no doubt those who would say I should have opened it for her before the shot and given her a minute to compose herself. I say it’s a grey area.

Grey my arse, you cheeky #*$*#@!



My wife was next and then somehow I got press-ganged into it. I try to avoid these dancing things, usually by hiding behind my camera, and thought this might be particularly humiliating by super-macho Samburu standards. But then it occurred to me that perhaps this was already where Ian thought someone as ancient and useless as me belonged in his world – dancing with the women and entertaining/ scaring the children with funny faces. I would post a picture if only I had one (he says with relief and hoping Zarek wasn’t snapping away at this point).




After I had escaped the clutches of the older ladies assigned to help me dance and clap (actually it was nice and I was glad to join in) I expected the dancing to stop and to move on to the normal “show and tell” and “sales pitch” stages. But instead the women continued on their own, with some mad dance that seemed to be a game and involved bumping each other until one of them was ejected from the circle. A kind of high speed, no-hands sumo?  This all looked pretty spontaneous although I suppose one of the older women could have said “Let’s show them how to play xyz.”  The fun was definitely genuine though – no doubt. I loved it.




After things calmed down it was eventually time for a quick look at the shop-on-a mat. The stuff was quite nice and pretty authentic compared directly to what they were actually wearing (and certainly in a completely different class to what the ladies at the gates of the national reserves wave in your face – a pleasure we missed this time because we only entered through the “back door”) including some items that were a bit amazing. The Samburu are flash dressers and while some of the stuff is only used on special occasions most of it is almost everyday wear for them. My wife as usual picked up something and said she wanted it and then left me to try to negotiate a price after she had already committed to the purchase. Unsurprisingly the price did not budge much. Then Mum decided she wanted one too. Actually we did something a little wrong (in a way, but not really) because Mum tried on a couple of pieces and of course the women were all watching (from a distance but with eagle eyes) and hoping it would be their work that sold. So they thought they had a sale and then Mum put the stuff back and picked something completely different. Not her fault, but my wife thinks it was wrong and says this is why she never touches until she decides to purchase – she can be so self-righteous (and right – okay, yes she is right). Anyway, I could not get the price for that piece down at all, and I suspect the events were linked.

I don;t think so Bibi!



A little disappointment  for some. Guess who made it?



After shopping it was time to chat with an elder – I assume the oldest man in the manyatta, or perhaps the immediate area. We were given stools (well Mum and I and the mzee were, but my ever-youthful wife was left sitting on the floor, which she appreciated as it certainly meant she wasn’t senior enough in age yet – this is pre “Oh Mama!”). No comment here on why the sharing of wisdom was the only thing the men did that day (other than Ian of course) but I think Mum and Nam Wan would much rather have shared the wisdom of the women.

Ian interpreting



Anyway, the old man talked and Ian interpreted and while it wasn’t anything really new for us, it was nice and of course we listened respectfully and asked a few questions. The moment came for the making of fire, but they couldn’t get it going as it was a bit windy, the mzee’s hands didn’t really move fast enough any more and I guess Ian uses a lighter most of the time. We sympathized about the wind and made it clear that it didn’t matter.

Show and tell



Shortly after show and tell (I don’t use that term with prejudice – it is what it is and can be a very effective and interesting way of learning about an unfamiliar culture. My personal opinion is that it is up to you, as the student, to engage and ask questions if you want to turn a nice experience into a really memorable one.) it was decided it was time for us to go, and the women saw us out and did a last farewell song, which both Bibi and wife joined in with quite enthusiastically, with little encouragement. It’s nice when you can relax and just enjoy these things, without thinking too much.

Bibi wasn’t quite sure whether to join the line or not, but was having fun I think.



Mrs K put on her new necklace and got right in line. I considered leaving her behind (for photo bombing)



My memory is a bit vague on this but I think we had already planned we might have a sundowner and had wine and beer on board for this. But it could be that we decided at some point during the afternoon. I also don’t think that we returned to camp as it was approaching sundowner time as we were driving back. However, none of this is sure. What is sure is that at around 40 minutes before sunset we were cruising the highway asking Ian to tell us where these great sundowner spots he had said existed were. There were lots, he told us. However, Zarek and I were wiser now and were taking him through exactly what a good sundowner spot entailed. I don’t remember everything we said but it included pointing out that an elevated position on an kopje would be good, whereas just somewhere random from which your view was obscured by lots of scrappy little trees would be bad. Ian genuinely did understand this time and admitted none of his prospective spots really met the criteria. None of the accessible rocky outcrops looked very climbable for a Bibi worn out by dancing and clapping, so we were a bit stuck.

But were we? Actually the only clear area other than the elevated ground was that cleared for the road. And right here, now, was a view of the Matthews range over which the sun was going to set very shortly. In fact, there were some light atmospherics already going on.  And the road verges were elevated and gave an even better view. So we got Job to drive up on the embankment next to the road and stopped. Rather than drive around hopefully until we missed the sunset, we’d have our sundowner next to the highway to Ethiopia.

The trucks passing (not too many) seemed to like our idea too, and gave us a toot as we raised our beer bottles to them.





The sundowner view to the Matthews mountains (well actually I ahd to get Job to drive me a kilometer down the road to minimise intrusion by the bush but that doesn't matter when you are just looking).




This sundowner is one of the fonder memories of the Sabache part of the  trip for my wife – a bit symbolic perhpas, but this time we were in control and so it actually was offbeat fun rather than frustrating. Also, it had been a really good day – “better than expected” didn’t come close.


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We had no plans for the morning before my Mount Ololokwe climb but someone suggested camel riding. For unknown reasons both Mum and my wife thought this was a great idea – I guess Bibi’s spirit of adventure knows no bounds. My wife knew roughly what she was in for and so did I, and cried off on the grounds that I would need to take the photos. For some odd reason Zarek thought he should stay on the ground too.




There is not too much more to say. They would ride camels in the bush below the camp for an hour or so. The camel owners were pros who trained racing camels for a living. They had trained a Malaral Camel Derby winner recently Ian told me, excited that I had heard of the Malaral Camel Derby. In Bibi’s mind it was supposed to be like this: quiet, noble, romantic, timeless – enjoying the scenery from a privileged, elevated viewpoint.






The reality was inevitably a little different.





Bibi was making quite a few noises and complaining quite a bit and so I told her after 15 minutes that I would give her a safe word so we could use that to know when she was really in distress and needed to get down. The safe word would be “Sara”.

“Sara” she shouted after 3 seconds. “Sara. Sara. Sara!”

We got her down safely and my wife finished the hour alone on the camel, which she quite enjoyed, although not necessarily to the extent that she is in a hurry to do it again. Once every ten years will probably do her. Bibi will never look at Lawrence of Arabia in the same way again I fear.




If you are wondering why they are sharing a camel, the one assigned to my wife was the derby runner and really did not want anyone on its back. She was getting bucked and so she got off again and got on with Mum, whose camel was a relatively placid beast.  

I fear for my life if I show you many more photos from this activity.


Well that is the end of the story of Sabache, and sadly of our adventure with Zarek and team.  After we got down from the mountain we packed up and headed off to Kalama Conservancy, which was only a little way south from Sabache. Wildlife in Kalama didn’t look too promising on this drive, but we were on the “main road” through the conservancy and we hoped with the help of the local guides that we might find there was more to it than met the eye.


And Bibi was a bit exhausted mentally and physically, even though she appreciated all the experiences she had had - but hopefully a few nights of luxury living would restore her.  Who knows, Saruni might even have water for a shower!





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We arrived at Saruni Samburu looking rather unlike the other guests. I'll do a post on Saruni later because I was rather impatient to get things unpacked and then get out to find some wildlife. My telephotos were feeling very neglected. Dear Safaritalk readers and being neglected - pages without fur! So fast forward and......


Our assigned guiding team was Lepayon and James. You'll meet them properly later, but would we actually find any wildlife in Kalama Conservancy that evening? Or would be end up pohotographing a plastic cup in a foot of stagnant water? We knew it was desperately dry and that for that reason grazing was going on in areas it normally wouldn't be. They ahd even drained the waterhole to avoid attracting elephants that might get into conflict with local herders. Both things had affected the wildlife viewing and we would accept anything. Dik diks hifing in a bush would do.




Out in the open would be better




Feeding on their hind legs like their neighbours the gerenuks would be fabulous!




And it turns out there would be gerenuks themselves .





Even better, some of them really weren't too skittish, if you didn;t push them too far. A little curious it seemed.




We were feeling much happier now - there were dik diks every 100 meters. Freeze and then run like mad when we didn't stop coming towards them.


And we finsihed the day on a real hgih note. The guys spotted something in a tree and braked hard. Bushbabies. It was really difiicult to see them  in the center of the tree because of all the branches and leaves in the way. All views were obscured  although you could certainly see they were bushbabies and clearly make out their features and that they were staring at us just as hard as we were staring at them. Getting a shot would be manual focus only though! So we got out of the vehicle and I managed to find a couple of angles.

where I could see through to them relatively clearly, It wasn't ideal but damn it was good for bushbabies in what was still just about daylight. Seriously, this was not an easy shot to work out.




And finally one of them made a giant leap up higher into the tree, and presented the cleraest view yet. It wasn;t going to get any better, and we could govery happily to our first sundowner a little bit too late, which was always a good sign.




Klama Conservancy in the worst conditions was not going to be the Masai Mara, but at least it had life and potential. The next morning we would be leaving at 6 am to travel down into Samburu National Reserve. We were very much looking forward to it.

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Those are lovely shots there and you got them in daylight!  


Look forward to the rest of Saruni - it's very high up on my list! 

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17 hours ago, pault said:


You may! (Puts on thick glasses) RAW. Why do you ask? I find this comment and question interesting.


Also puts on thick glasses. Clears throat. God this is going to sound so nerdy.


I notice that for at least some of your photos you were (are) using a Sony camera. 

You exposures seem to be spot on, managing to retain good detail in both light and dark areas, especially noticeable with the drastically different skin tones of European & African subjects. 

This is not easy to get right in harsh African sunlight. So I wondered if the Sony was so clever that it could produce such excellent images as jpegs or whether you have worked your magic in post processing.


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Posted (edited)

@pault I'm really enjoying your TR.


Wonderful photos of the Aberdares, Bibi with the Samburu women, the gerenuk and bush babies - I've only ever seen the bush babies at night mostly just eye shine.

Edited by Treepol
missed word
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continuing with the idea of me being a nerd, you mentioned the Malaral Camel Derby. Did you mean Maralal? or is there a Malaral somewhere?

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17 minutes ago, Soukous said:

continuing with the idea of me being a nerd, you mentioned the Malaral Camel Derby. Did you mean Maralal? or is there a Malaral somewhere?

I mean Maralal of course. Unfortunately your nerdiness did not come in time for an edit, but is appreciated.


Re the original nerd-out, I do play a little in post but yes, I really noticed that too and  I can tell you the A&RIi is very impressive for this right out of the box. Amazing range compared to my older cameras, although I believe there is even better now (on paper at least).  You'd want to avoid setting contrast too high on the jpegs in camera and add it afterwards, in a way that wouldn't darken the dark tones too much. However, of course there are limits on it - running RAW files quickly through Lightroom definitely helps..


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@pault as always, thoroughly enjoying the narratives (and monologues that churn in your head). I hope Saruni helped soothed Bibi's frayed nerves and prepared for her for a more fabulous time. 


great shots of the bushbabies. you must have moved very swiftly but carefully to get down and get those shots. and they were so accomodating. 

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Happy memories of Maralal. Used to go through there every week. It's also where I met Wilfred Thesiger. I don't recall him being as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. 

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All I can say to Babi on the camel is "Well done girl!" Sitting astride an elephant in Kazaranga nearly killed me and if I had known 'Sara' was the word I needed at the time my agony could have been cut short. Pen

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The sharpness of your images put most of us to shame.  


I was thinking "short back" was an expression that meant hard working.


I can't believe you hiked up that mountain and camped, I got short of breath just reading about it.  


I would give give my eye teeth to have visited the village but I would have wanted to take too many portraits.  


Really good stuff Paul.  

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I tend to throw about superlatives a lot here (deservedly so, too!), but those views are honestly stunning. Definitely worth the work!

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Posted (edited)

I’ll cover most of the wildlife sightings before I circle back to cover Saruni and the people and Bibi’s continuing adventures (one of my fondest Bibi stories). I know you still need more fur.

Our “room” (aka desert palace) was accessible by vehicle and so Lepayon and James came to pick us up there at 6 a.m. (apart from one adoptee one morning we had the vehicle to ourselves throughout, which was nice). It was still pretty much dark at that time, but since the objective of the morning game drives was always Samburu National Reserve, six was the time to start, so you could hit the reserve while the light was still decent. Well, unless you saw too much on the way – but that would hardly be something to complain about. Actually I have to say this routine works. Fact is that along the river starts to get active at 9 or so and peaks mid-morning, and this routine gets you there more or less at the right time. Staying in the reserve there would certainly be a temptation to stick to the river tracks in the early morning and ignore the less reliable northern areas of the reserve. However, there is actually a lot to see in those areas too, especially if you are not “marquee animal” fixated. You’ll see a couple of nice things we found because we were out there on our own, away from the busier tracks, in the morning. We also rarely met another vehicle until 9, and since they were on their way back to the lodges for breakfast then, usually had little company afterwards either. Away from the river, after 10 things are very quiet as it is getting hot and animals prefer to rest up – so it really makes sense to be along the river around that time, even if the light isn’t great for photography then (for a non-photographer it’s a no-brainer).

I have to say I was pretty excited. I wasn’t expecting bushbabies again but it was a reminder that this was an area that could deliver some nice surprises and that made me alert and interested. Nice coffee and cookies to start the day with too!

We didn’t stop for any of the dik-diks in the murky pre-dawn light (well, we might have stopped for one, but of course any photos I took were not worth keeping) but we did stop for our first reticulated giraffe, even if the light was still very low.




The one negative of the routine is that you are probably still in fairly thick bush when the sun rises, and while it is a gorgeous moment, there isn’t a lot to make a photograph with. This was my best effort, although I really wanted the giraffe back of course!



And what was just down the road? Giraffes, eh? Never around when you need them.



The light was really strange and really warm that morning – partly because it just was and partly because it was so dry that any wind or movement by animals (or large birds) would stir up the dust.  We came across a small group of Somali ostriches out for some early morning exercise. The male was just beginning to turn a bit blue and the females were starting to look a bit amorous, but not yet ready to mate.








A couple of them did this, which might be removing insects from the head, or from the foot, or some kind of display. More likely grooming as that is what they were doing, but I really do not know. Anyway, you could see how from some angles they might appear to be burying their heads like this.



Amazingly, we could see all the way to Mount Kenya, which is quite some distance. Despite the amount of dust around, it was quite a clear day today (perfect for being on top of Mount Ololokwe actually). This was a different view of the great mountain for me (and this is a crop from a telephoto shot – to the naked eye it was tiny).




We continued the nice sightings with a busy group of vulturine guineafowl. The endemics were coming to us – no need to look hard!  



And soon after we left the conservancy and entered the reserve we saw our first elephant up here, dwarfed by the escarpment.



And plenty of gerenuks now too. This is a great drive for gerenuks.

Look no hands!



Approved feeding methods



Is this the bikini shot @atravelynn ? I am not sure of the full requirements for a successful “bikini shot”.



Everything was out and active at this time and our progress was very, very slow – in the best way.


An African hare



Our first Grevy’s zebras – but we’d do much better than this later.



Reticulated giraffe with escarpment



Dueling impalas



Jogging warthog (I believe a desert warthog although it wasn’t the best angle to tell)



A nice Grant’s Gazelle



And as we reached the river, some nice elephant viewing.



And of course there were vervet monkeys and baboons around.



At this point I want you to stop and think. It’s 9.40 am and time for breakfast now. We have not even seen another vehicle yet. We will see some very soon (they are coming to look at the elephants and something else we think is there – I just heard an engine) but if you head back away from the river right now you can return slowly to Saruni by another route and you’ll certainly have a few more nice sightings on the way…….. and you won’t have seen another vehicle or person (except the ranger at the entrance to Kalama Conservancy) all morning. You might miss something, but it is worth considering.

Edited by pault
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So what did you decide? We unpacked breakfast and sat on the banks of the river eating and watching the elephants and other animals coming to drink.


Elephant cooling her calf



But the calf had a better way to cool off quickly



It is so dry that there is literally no water in the Ewaso Nyiro river. Later in the year you might see this as an effect of climatic and other changes, but at the end of June? This is a real drought – and a bad one. Of course elephants can dig for water, and we saw many excavating. However, to keep the elephants coming to the river and away from the few remaining sources of water for livestock (with inevitable conflict) and to ensure that other animals can drink there and don’t wander off into conflict or from the few pools that are filled with crocodiles on the Buffalo Springs side, the rangers dig in the river bed daily at certain points until sweet water flows up. Buffalo Springs still has good water – due to the springs – but we saw quite a lot of grazing that side (Isiolo County). There was none on the Samburu side (that we saw). We only crossed over to the Buffalo Springs side once – but that was perhaps partially because we saw plenty on the Samburu side.


Walking the river banks



Ground squirrel (like the dik-diks they were everywhere



Eagle enjoying the warm breeze



Then look who showed up….  I spy with my little eye, something beginning with FOOD!



The lioness was quickly into stalking mode and so were Lepayon and James.

Following a hunt here with them was very similar to following one with the better Maasai guides in the Mara. Although here the river and the prohibition against offroad driving were significant limiting factors they know what they are doing, know every tiny gap between bushes that might be classified as a track, and could read what was happening well. They also asked “Is this good?” every time and would reposition if I wanted, but usually it was good – or as good as it could be given the restrictions and the unpredictability once a hunt gets underway. Something tells me someone might want that information.


Here we go!



No way to be on the other side – driving across the river is allowed but not possible where we were… maybe she’ll turn?



Yes, she turns…. and scores!



But loses her grip and the warthog gathers pace out of the turn and escapes




It actually hadn’t looked like the lion would have much chance as she had to cover a lot of open ground before she got to the drinking warthogs, but mother warthog had tried to get herself between the lion and her piglets and clearly miscalculated the lion’s speed and agility – very nearly paying the ultimate price.


The warthog after the chase. Could have been much worse- she was able to walk on four legs.



 And having checked out the warthog and ascertained that the lion was not going to try again,  we returned to watching the elephants for a while before making our way back to Saruni – very pleased with the morning.


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Posted (edited)

Options for the afternoon/ evening are a drive around Kalama Conservancy with sundowner, leaving at 3 pm to visit the reserve – usually getting back after dark, at 7 pm or later, and a night drive at around 8 pm after an early dinner. As on the first evening, we went with the first option – to stay in Kalama Conservancy and actually see what was there. And that evening Lepayon and James became the first guiding team ever to arrange a drive specifically to target the Mrs K Big 5 (mongoose, honey badger, bushbaby, dik dik and hyrax).

The selected route was really just a drive around the huge kopje on which Saruni is located.

View of Samburu Saruni from the plains below.



Of course the dik dik was never going to be a problem. They have both Guenther’s and Kirk’s here in large numbers and we quickly found a Guenther’s with a particularly fine schnozzle.



Hyrax were a little more difficult than expected (but not that difficult). There are a lot of them around, but the rock faces they prefer are very steep and it can be difficult to access where they are. This may partially be to do with food access during these dry times– on the steepest parts they have access to food that other browsers cannot get at.



Mongooses were found too – king of the castle



Of course circling the rock what Lepayon and James really hoped to find was a leopard. The leopard that lives on the kopje has been given the name Ugali and is regularly seen (although not for over a week when we were there) including many visits to Saruni itself. We had no luck with Ugali and of course we had no luck with the honey badger – they are pretty elusive in Kenya.

But it was a lovely evening for a sundowner and a relatively low key drive. For the sundown we left the kopje behind a bit.




Saruni has wifi of course and this may have inspired my wife’s first ever selfie taken on safari. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My shadow bombewd both her phot and mint, though!



The preparation of the gin and tonics is a much more usual scene of course, and Kalama has beautiful views for it.



And then it was goodbye sun, goodbye G&T and time to return for a shower before dinner.





Back at Saruni, watching the last of the light fade I think.

We did see more that evening, but there wasn’t anything to get too excited about. Stuff like yellow-billed hornbills.




Edited by pault
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