Friday, 18 April 2014

CofC war strategy

AxsWarriors War Strategy Guide for CofC Wars last updated 11th July  2014

General points:

The aim is to get as many 3 star wins as possible. Remember that if a base has already lost 3 stars there is no point attacking it. You can't win stars twice. BUT if a base has only lost 1 star, you can win up to two more by defeating it.

So some simple but important points to help us win

1. Make sure your base is set to defence, NOT farming. This means bring your town hall in to the centre and have your cc at the centre too. Bring your heros inside too, it makes them harder to bait and kill.


Have your mortars, wizards and teslas protecting your town hall, push your resource stores out to the edge of your base. You can't lose resources from your war base

2. DO NOT DONATE TROOPS to anyone, without asking. ALWAYS let the top guys donate first, they have the best troops!

Before Attacking

3. Check your position on the war trail, what number are you? . This is your war rank - remember it.

4. Always use the strongest troops you can make. Don't worry about making a profit, don't worry about the cost, or how long they take to brew. don't go for loot, go for a 100% 3 star victory, it's only two battles and we need you to WIN!

5. When you attack, your war base cc will use the troops in your home base cc. If these are not lvl 5 or better, drop them on the goblin trail and request more before you battle. An elder or leader will give you lvl 5 or 6 troops. DO NOT ATTACK WITHOUT THEM.

For your FIRST attack only. (we want to save the second attack until later).

6.  Scout the base that is the same number as you. If you are our number 10, scout their number 10. This is your DEFAULT or 'par' base. Do not attack the base the game recommends unless it is this base.

7. If you think you can get at least 1 star from this base, attack it. If you think you will lose then hold back and ask an elder.  DO NOT GO LOWER than your default base. If you think you are much stronger than your default base you can attack a higher base, but remember they will have max troops in their cc!

NEVER ATTACK A BASE THAT HAS LOST 3 STARS! its a waste of an attack.

Be patient! The war will be fought over 24 hours and we will want to check our progress as it goes on. The idea is to get as many 3 star wins as possible.

For your second attack, wait at least half a day before you attack so that we can see how the war is going.

we will want to get three stars from all their bases so again look for one close to your level that you can beat. if in doubt ask an elder.

When you attack a base that has already been attacked, you can watch the replay of the first attack. ALWAYS SCOUT and ALWAYS check the replay before attacking, it may show you where the bombs and teslas are and what troops are in the cc. Remember defence troops are always the same for both attacks, only attack troops change (they are whatever is in your home cc when you attack).

Some bases may be tricky, and appear easy but in fact be hard. If two guys have already lost or only won one star LEAVE THAT BASE ALONE. One of our top guys can kill it later.

OK Summary:

Set up for defence, BRING YOUR TH AND CC IN to the centre of your war base

DONT DONATE - leave it to the top guys



ALWAYS USE BOTH YOUR ATTACKS we need those stars!



and above all HAVE FUN! :-)

OK I'll update this guide as the wars go on, with new ideas and suggestions that we all come up with.

Thanks for reading


Saturday, 3 November 2012


"It's just that I'd rather die of drink than of thirst."
 Ian Fleming.

So the latest Bond outing is on the screens and making the big bucks. Highest grossing UK opening weekend of any movie ever! 'Best Bond yet' they said, 'Worth seeing then' - I thought.

But it isn't. Not even slightly. It's not 'Best Bond', its not even 'Good Bond', its actually Weak Bond, Emasculated Bond, Old Bond. Bond stripped of his sexiness and power and made old and feeble. in fact it's 'Has Bond'

So whats wrong with it exactly?

Well basically the plot. Deranged Baddie, Silva (Javier Bardem) is out to kill M (Judi Dench). Why? because she dumped him as an agent years ago and he wants revenge. He's also gay, but apart from a bit of touching Bonds pecs while he's tied to a chair, (Bondage?), his sexuality isn't really examined.

His motivation is just that he's, er, deranged (Baddie trait #1 from the Observers book of Baddies). Despite this he is a computer genius (Baddie trait  #2 from the Observers book of Baddies), and controls a large criminal organisation with huge resources (so that's traits 1, 2 and 3 covered).

He is able to hack the British Secret services hardened network and blow up MI6 headquarters using just his laptop and their central heating system, no really, I kid you not - Fecking good job Al Qaeda don't have laptops! (or maybe theirs have all been paralysed by upgrades to Windows 8?).

Bond, fresh from being accidentally shot by Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) while on a job,  - you can see why she ended up as a secretary after that - although she did something the Bond Baddies have never got close to, she very nearly killed The Man - how he survived being shot off a train and plunging 100 ft into a river is somehow overlooked, just luck I guess.

 Anyway, Bond is sent off to track down the mystery hacker and meets the first real Bond girl of the movie Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Like most Bond girls her life insurance company is almost instantly in deficit, in fact she lasts about 5 minutes.

Not a great scene for Bond, He has to do a William Tell job with an old duelling pistol and a glass of scotch on her head. He fluffs it, but misses her, so the Baddie shoots her. Only then, does Bond grab a real gun, kill everyone within shouting distance (except the Baddie of course), and take the Baddie into custody with the aid of 4 helicopters worth of reinforcements.

Now not to pick hairs or anything, but if Bond had just spun it out a bit and let the helicopters arrive, or grabbed the gun and wasted everyone a bit sooner, Sévérine, might have lasted another scene or two. Maybe she didn't floss enough?

So, it turns out that the Baddie wanted to be captured just so he'd be locked up close to M. A couple of points here. Firstly, does no-one build prison cells any more? You know, concrete rooms with metal bars? Ever since Silence of the Lambs, if you want to make your Baddie look REALLY DANGEROUS, you put him in a glass walled room inside a basketball court. Hannibal started it, but X-men's Magneto got the same treatment. And so to Silva, they don't chain him to a post in a dungeon, they just put him in an (electronically locked) glass room.

A room from which he easily escapes when Hyper Nerd Q (Ben Whishaw), who reportedly has a brain the size of a planet and  'invented' the mega secret encryption routines used to safeguard our most secret, er, secrets, happily plugs the Baddies laptop into MI6 network and lets it unleash a killer virus that immediately sets the Baddie free.

Now again, maybe I'm a bit simple, but if your Baddie is known to be a 'Genius Hacker', maybe plugging his laptop into your net is not such a bright idea? Maybe just keep it isolated on a small local net, one that doesn't connect to your door lock controls? OK, - wild and crazy plan I concede.

Oh yes while I'm on the subject of Q, previous Quartermasters have given Bond everything from cars with ejector seats, micro rocket firing autogiros, and watches that could unzip a dress at 20 paces. What does Craig's Bond have to manage with? A gun that will let only him fire it, and a homing radio the size of a fag packet. Now he could ensure that only he could fire the gun simply by KEEPING HOLD OF IT, and even real life tracers these days are no bigger than a postage stamp, so these devices were not exactly cutting edge. OK I'm not asking for invisible cars, or submarine Lotuses but maybe a bit more decent weaponry isn't too much to expect. I mean why not at least make the gun blow up in the wrong hands? That would have been helpful. And why not give Bond TWO GUNS? Your average LA policeman is usually tooled up to the gills, with service weapon, ankle strapped revolver, switchblade, and probably a cosh or two. Bond gets one 9mm pistol, to take on an army. And that 'pocket' radio? designed in the 50's no doubt. Might as well have given him a homing pigeon.

Back to the plot, Bond chases Baddie across the London underground, pausing only to miss him from a range of about 20 feet while he climbs a ladder, which turns out to be all part of the plan as the baddie who has an even bigger radio, blows up the tube and dumps a train on Bond.

Now as a set piece it is quite visually impressive, a tube train crashing down into the tunnel and all that, but as a plot device? Wouldn't it have been easier to just lob a grenade? or blow up the bit of tunnel Bond was standing on? Guess not.

So chase continues, Baddie almost gets to kill M who is being grilled by the local Public Protection Committee, and is  accused of being a grandma in charge of HMSS (guilty as charged I'm afraid).

Bond arrives, and with the aid of Ralph Fiennes (can't remember his name but you know immediately that he's M's replacement) manages to chase off the Baddie and Rescue M.

Now at this point we have to suspend disbelief completely and enter LOTR territory. You know, that plot that says 'This is the most dangerous Ring in the world, it could DESTROY us all! What shall we do with it? - I know lets give it to a Hobbit and send him to the bad guy" Yeah good plan guys, safe, you know? I mean an alternative 'lets give it to one of Gandalf's giant Eagles and get him to drop it into mount Doom's lava', would have cut the whole ridiculously long winded boring saga down to a page and a half.

So Bond wants to keep M safe, and use her as bait to lure the Baddie out of cover. OK, so he drives her to his remote Scottish mansion. Once again, call me daft, but given that he WANTS the baddie to find them, could he not have popped into a military base on the way (there must be one still open somewhere between London and Scotland) and picked up, you know, a bit more ammo? A sub machine gun? A stinger missile or two? maybe a couple of hundred squaddies as cannon fodder? No, his cunning plan is to lie in wait for the baddie armed with two shotguns and Bernard Cribbens (actually Albert Finney but he looks like Bernard Cribbens).

Oh yes and while I'm on the subject, he tells Bond he's kept his fathers hunting RIFLE for him, when in fact it's a 12 bore side by side shotgun. Not a mistake even a doddering old fart like him is likely to make.

So we enter the grand finale and it's basically 'Home alone 4' with explosives.  M, Bond and Bernard (sorry, Albert) set trip wires and traps all over the old house, the first wave of baddies arrive and get variously shot, impaled or otherwise blown up, the second wave arrive in a helicopter and blow the house up.

M and Albert escape and hole up in the only other easy to spot landmark for 100 miles around, the old church. (Hiding 500 yards away in the bracken would have been too easy). Baddie arrives, is about to kill himself and M, gets stabbed in the back by Bond, dies, then M , mortally wounded by a shot in her bum, also dies. A sad 'end' indeed. In fact the Baddie got what he wanted, he's dead, and M's dead. What bloody use was Bond?

And sadly that is the overall feel of the movie. I've been a huge Bond fan ever since Dr No. - Ok there were the famine years of Roger Moore, but at least Live and Let Die had a catchy tune or two, (and that's another thing, Adele may be a great singer but Skyfall theme is complete dirge, can't see anyone humming it next month. The great themes of the past, You Only Live Twice, GoldFinger, From Russia With Love,  all stay with you because lyrically and musically they are wonderful evocative pieces of music. The Skyfall theme isn't.)

But getting back to the movie itself, it takes everything away from Bond, his gadgets, his sexiness, his power, and leaves him with, well what? He fails his performance assessment, he misses practically everything he shoots at, he gets his girl and his boss killed, and he spends most of the movie looking like a beardie hobo.

It's not Craigs fault, he does his best and looks the part when allowed to. He runs and jumps and does his own stunts well too. But whoever put this travesty together has missed the point. Bond is a Badass. Bond is power, vengeful might, Bond is retribution, served up to Baddies the world over. Even the Moore era pastiches stuck to this. Ok they added lots of (too much) comedy and panto, but Bond still kicked ass and WON. Skyfall is humourless and melancholy. Bond's one liner 'quips' remain, but don't work. There is no lightness of heart in the whole film, and ultimately Bond and it both fail dismally.

It's Bad Bond.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Reminds me of my Safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water. 

- W.C. Fields

It was all very last minute. We were sat in our rain-soaked garden in Leicester just a few weeks ago, and both decided enough was enough - time to go somewhere at least a bit DRIER, (and hopefully a bit warmer). We'd had our fill of beach holidays, didn't fancy a city break (as we had one booked for later in the year), when the brainstorm hit - how about a Safari!

Never having done one before, in fact never having been to Africa, we thought 'oh well - in for a penny' (actually quite a few pennies but c'est la vie!) so a quick bit of web research, a phone call to Kuoni, and we had a choice of 3 trips all leaving within the next fortnight. We decided to avoid the mixed 'beach and safari' options and went straight for 6 nights at the Bushtops by the Masai Mara.

The first problem was getting all our vaccinations. No way could we get them done in time on the good ol' (but slow) NHS so we booked a private GP and next day came out with arms full of viruses. Yellow Fever, Hep A, Dysentry, Tetanus, Diptheria, Polio, you name it they gave it to us. Fortunately no strong reactions resulted although arms were sore for a couple of days. We also loaded up on Malarone to keep the Malaria at bay.

Flights were from T4 heathrow to Nairobi and then from Wilson Airport to the bush The intervening 10 days went by in a blur of sorting out Mosi spray, and hats.

The flight out left on time, and was uneventful, save that in an attempt to sleep I might have had one or two more 'medicinal' whiskies than was strictly good for me. Resulting in no sleep and arriving in Nairobi with a mild hangover (or maybe it was the Malarone ). Mrs Axs, being far more sensible, slept all the way. Arrival in Nairobi was 'interesting' since as you come into the building the sign for passport control points both left and right??? It became apparent that this is because it is a circular building so you can go either way. Anyway we found the desk, each coughed up our $50 visa fee and walked out into Africa!

A very nice young man from Kuoni met us outside arrivals and led us to our car which then took us through the most amazing early morning traffic to Wilson. It was like the M25 but with pedestrians. People walking up and down the road, cars changing lanes seemingly at random, street sellers offering everything from padlocks to mobile phones. The journey was less than 10 miles but took nearly an hour.

Arriving at Wilson we hit what could have been a bit of a hiccup. We'd been told the small plane had a luggage limit of 15kg, but had foolishly assumed this was for check in bags only. In fact it is a TOTAL limit. Our main bags weighed exactly 15kg each, but then we each had a carry on, and I had my camera bag too. we were probably 50% over weight (more if you take into account my less than svelte build!). We were saved from either a large bill or having to leave stuff in lockers, by the fact that no-one seemed to care. They didn't even glance at our carry ons, just weighed in our main bags and checked us through. We were relieved but surprised, how come they weren't bothered? The answer came later.

After an hour drinking very nice Kenyan Tea (in true Brits abroad style), we were called through to departures and driven a short distance round to the airfield. We were escorted out to our single engined 12 seater plane and found out why they hadn't been worried about our luggage weight. We were the only passengers! The pilot offered us a Glacier mint, and 45 minutes later we landed at the Airstrip in the Mara bush.

The local airport wasn't exactly 'busy'

We were met by Japhet and Jacob from Bushtops in their heavily modified Toyota Landcruiser, who were very quick to take our bags and offers us a choice of tea, coffee, or a refreshing glass of chilled Chardonnay. Something told me I was going to enjoy this safari.

Mara Bushtops modify their Landcruisers themselves, making them very comfortable indeed

The drive to Bushtops took about 45 minutes during which time we got our first glimpses of the wildlife. Well when I say 'glimpse', a Giraffe almost jumped out in front of us. We actually saw more animals in that short drive than I had ever before seen in the flesh. Bushtops is set in its own 'conservancy' just a few Kilometres from the Mara reserve, and of course there are no fences. Elephant, Giraffe, Wildebeeste, Zebra, Water Buffalo, all the Antelopes, and even some of the cats wander up to and in to the 'tented' camp. The 'tents' are in fact half stone built structures all with ensuite facilities, indoor and outdoor showers, hot tubs and a verandah with stunning views. It's one of the nicest 'hotels' I've stayed in.

The camp is in the background, our 'tent' is furthest to the right.

In fact the wildlife get so close to the tents that after dark a group of Masai 'Nightwatchmen' patrol the camp and accompany guests to and from the tents. It's all very safe and reassuring for anyone not used to being this close to nature.
So we arrived at Bushtops and were met by Georgé the camp manager, Phillipe his 2IC and Maggi (who really ran the place!). Some refreshing cloths were provided, and more Tea and chilled wine were on offer. Finally we were shown to our tent and given a few hours to settle in before afternoon Tea and our first Game drive!

The tents are 'quite comfortable' to say the least

So that evening we went out on our first 'game drive'. The Mara itself is closed after 6.00 but that's one advantage of Bushtops - having its own conservancy area makes it possible to go for evening, and even night drives. They also offer guided walks in the bush, but more of that later.

We were met at 4.30 by Ferdinand our driver and guide, accompanied by James our Masai spotter, and along with another couple (two French honeymooners) we set off into the bush. This was when I first realised just how good the Bushtops vehicles are. With the majority of vehicles we saw (mostly 4wd minivans), taking photos involved standing up and shooting from the open roof. Even the other Land Cruisers, and Land Rovers , having windows and sides made photography more difficult. The modifications done to the Bushtops vehicles (apparently to their own design and in their own garage) and having just the 6 seats, mean that you can be seated in comfort while still having excellent views all round. The well stocked cool boxes are a good idea too . They even provide blankets and spare binoculars if required!

Sorry about the hat!

So we drove out into the area around Bushtops and almost immediately came upon a large male Elephant and a Cape Buffalo. This was the closest I'd been to animals of such size and power.

He was a big Elephant

And quite close too

Ferdinand explained that the Cape Buffalo (and Hippo) were actually more dangerous than the Lions, which was very reassuring as we watched him 15 feet away 
So moving on after we had exhausted our shutter fingers, we drove around the camp, spotting Giraffe, Gazelle, Impala, Topi, and a rather sad Zebra that had barely survived an attack from what Ferdinand said was probably a Lion.

The Zebra had a nasty gash on its haunch

Eventually we stopped for sundown drinks by a camp fire

It all felt rather civilised

Game Drive!

The next day we did an all day game drive, our first trip into the Mara reserve itself. The day started early, our 'butler' Edward woke us with tea (of course) at 6.30 and we had a quick breakfast to be on the road by 8.00. We drove for about 20 minutes to get to the gates of the Mara where we were met by some local ladies keen to offer us bangles beads and other mementos of our trip at only a few multiples of their value . On our guide's advice we resisted their bargaining, but I couldn't resist taking a picture or two, which lead to more bargaining over the price. Eventually with honour satisfied all round , and after a quick toilet stop we pressed on into the Mara.
The very colourfully dressed Masai Ladies

Driving along the bumpy pot-hole filled roads were were very glad of the Toyota's excellent suspension and deeply cushioned seats, nonetheless we learned the meaning of the phrase 'Kenyan road massage'.
As we drove deeper into the Mara we began to se more and more wildlife, in greater variety and number. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We saw a lot of Zebra

An Ostrich



and then we cam to the Hippo water hole. Ferdinand , while telling us that Hippos were the most dangerous animal, explained that during the day, if they were in the water and you were not you'd be OK. Just don't ever get between them and the water, particularly at night. Reassured we stepped out of the vehicle (it was good to stretch our legs) and walked down to the water hole. There were indeed a 'few' Hippos enjoying a dip....

A bloat (!) of Hippos

A huge beast! (trying to photograph a yawning Hippo)

said Hippo

And one more, with BIG teggys

We spent quite a while with the Hippos and it was fascinating to watch them dipping into the water and becoming almost invisible only to resurface with a splash and a yawn the size of a football stadium. But eventually we drove on and found a shady spot further down the river for lunch. After a very nice picnic, accompanied by a couple of cool Tusker beers, we drove on in search of our first Lion. We found him, with a lady friend, dozing in some bushes.

His name is 'Notch', he's 13 years old and quite famous in the Mara

Since he wasn't coming out from the bushes anytime soon, we left 'Notch' and drove a short distance to where one of his younger brothers was lazing with his mate in the afternoon sun.

They were quite sleepy too

Although clearly not too tired for a bit of afternoon lovin'!

Leaving the Lions to their afternoon er, snooze, we headed back toward Bushtops listening to Ferdinad describe the animals and trees of the Mara. He was extremely knowledgeable and could tell you the size weight, gestation period and inside leg measurement of just about every creature that flew, galloped or crawled across the Mara. We spotted some more 'wildlife' photographing a bush.

See what I mean about the roof access?

So we investigated to see what they had found.

Our first Cheetah! Two brothers resting in the shade.

So now we knew what to look for. Never mind tracking the 'spoor', just scan for a collection of white vans with lenses poking out and there's bound to be something of interest! Using this technique we quickly spotted our next 'sign'....

This turned out to be a real find, a lone female cheetah, with four young cubs.

They were just having lunch

I know Warthogs are beautiful too (at least to other Warthogs), but I admit I'm a sucker for 'cute'

Ok At this point I have to say I was a well happy camper. You may have gathered by now that I have a fondness for cats of all shapes and sizes, and in fact I feel the need to include a shot of Walter our very own Lion.

Right, back to the Safari! After the Cheetah we continued back toward the reserve entrance, pausing to pick up shots of any wildlife on the way. A circling of Vultures caught our eye, and they turned out to be feeding on a carcass.

This Wildebeeste was definitely not going to make it.

This guy clearly didn't like being 'papped'.

We finally left the reserve around 4.00. It had been a long day's drive but absolutely amazing! An incredible introduction to what the Mara has to offer. As we left I took our last pic of the day, a brightly coloured little bird, looking annoyed with us from the side of the road.
A Lilac Chested Roller - not a fan of tourists!

Balloon Ride!

To say the next day we leapt up to greet the dawn would not be true. In fact it would be a complete lie. We were dog tired after the 20 odd hour journey to get there, and the previous early start and long day's game drive, while wonderful and interesting, had also been quite tiring, so it was with some difficulty that I prized the bed off my back at 4.00 on the Saturday morning. Edward delivered our tea with such cheerfulness that I almost had to hit him with a croissant. I'm not really much of a morning person. 

Bleary eyed and wishing we'd not booked such an early event, we staggered down to reception to be met by Boniface and Harrison from the Hot Air Safari company. They too were unconcionably cheerful, which was even more amazing when we learned they'd been up since 3.30 and pretty much did this every day.

We left Bushtops and drove to the Mara reserve, waking the guards on the gate to let us through. They were reassuringly grumpy, so it wasn't just me then. After picking up a sleepy Malaysian family from a lodge within the Mara we drove on for about an hour to the launch site, which has to be chosen quite carefully since balloons have no steering. I can sleep just about anywhere, but wouldn't have believed it possible to doze while travelling on Kenyan dirt roads. I managed it - it's a gift.

Arriving at the launch field just as light was starting to show in the sky, we were gently directed to 'our balloon' and given a pre-flight briefing by 'Riz' our mad-as-a-box-of-frogs pilot. The main point of the briefing seemed to be, 'sit down and hang on' when told, and 'don't jump out' which all made a certain kind of sense. There was a reassuring absence of spiel about exit doors or life jackets.

The balloons, about a dozen of them, were all laid out next to each other in the field. They were 16 'seaters' with the baskets divided into eight 2-man compartments with the pilot's 'cabin' in the centre. The baskets were made from whicker which lead Riz to share with us that the Lions considered them 'picnic baskets' - Oh how we laughed !

They started lighting the burners and the noise was incredible. Until then we hadn't realised just how quiet the pre-dawn bush was. The light of the burners lit up the balloons all across the field.

Filling the balloons at dawn

'Our' balloon is on the right

As the balloons filled with hot air, they began to lift gently from the ground and we were encouraged to climb aboard. The guys holding the er, guy-lines, let go, and with Riz giving it big time on the burners, we rose slowly but steadily into the sky.
Riz hitting the gas

The ground crew, lit up by the burner

Have I mentioned how cold it was? Well it was cold. Not alpine-skiing cold, but colder than back home in Leicester. Must be the altitude, we were at about 1800m at Bushtops, and as the balloon rose higher I was glad of both my jacket, and the warmth from the burners when they lit.

The flight lasted just over an hour, and it was one of the best hours of my life. Ballooning is a wonderfully civilised way to fly. Mostly quiet (apart from the occasional 'burn'), and much less frenetic than any other method. Riz told some awful jokes, the mad Russians in the basket with us moaned about not being able to see the animals. 'Where are Lions'? they asked. "In Tanzania" Riz replied. And slowly, as we sailed over the vast Mara grassland, the dawn rose and it was somehow moving and magical.

Riz had a camera rigged up on a line, with a remote shutter release, so we even got some pix of ourselves (delivered later over breakfast), hanging in the sky.

Yes I'm still wearing that cap


Eventually, but far too soon, we began to descend, but the ride wasn't over - we were just approaching the Wildebeeste migration and Riz was taking us in close. It was like walking into Trafalgar square, only the 'pigeons' were bigger and uglier - noisy too. I didn't realise how much grunting and Gnu'ing Gnus actually did! The Wildebeeste parted like a sea around the balloons, not exactly running away, but giving us a wide berth.

Finally it really was over. We 'survived' a very civilised landing, he might be a complete nut bat, but Riz is an excellent pilot, and we posed for a 'we survived' photo op.

Then a short drive through the Mara to where our Champagne breakfast was waiting! I don't really do Champagne, but Alex (centre crouching above), my new found best friend from Russia, persuaded me that 7.30am was the perfect time for Vodka shots, so we toasted UK/Russian international relations. Then tucked in to sausage, bacon and eggs with (of course) strong Kenyan tea .

And just like that we were finished. We thanked our hosts and pilots. We wished our fellow travellers safe journeys and we climbed back aboard our Land Cruiser to head home. On the way back we saw a great many Wildebeeste, and Zebra, and indeed what had already become for us the 'usual' collection of wildlife. But we weren't really in a game spotting mood. The ballon flight had been amazing and it was something of an anticlimax to be back on the ground.
One strange sight we did come across was this:

A traffic jam in the middle of the Mara.

Puzzled as to what was going on, we drove closer, then our driver explained. The vehicles are not allowed to go 'off track' in the Mara (to contain the damage caused to the grassland) and some areas are designated 'closed' to traffic. The penalties if caught (by the rangers) are severe - $200 per vehicle, and it is the driver, not the tour company, that has to pay. That's a lot of money to a Kenyan tour driver. There's also a '3 strikes and you're out' policy which can cost the driver his licence and his livelihood. All these vehicles had just come through an area that was (in theory) signposted closed (although we didn't see any signs). The rangers made a good haul that morning.

It all seemed a bit arbitrary to me. It also seemed that the drivers were taking all the risks to the benefit of the tour companies and the tourists (who wanted to get as close as possible to the animals). Our driver also said that some of the rangers were corrupt and indeed the system did seem open to abuse. Apparently if you are willing to pay the fine (and $200 isn't that much to a western tourist), you can go anywhere and stay as long as you like. Ho hum - filthy lucre at the heart of things again.

We drove on back to Bushtops.


After the Balloon ride we REALLY wanted to relax a bit so we had a lie-in the following day and just lazed around reading and enjoying the pool at Bushtops. But there is no rest for the wicked, and besides, you don't travel all that way just to sit around and read, so we booked ourselves onto a bush walk. Now for the more experienced safarists among you, actually getting out of the vehicle and walking on the same ground trod by Giraffe, and Elephant, and Lion is probably a, er, walk in the park. But for us it was viewed with, shall we say, a certain trepidation. Mrs Axs was really worried, but I reassured her by pointing out that she didn't have to outrun the Lions, she just had to outrun ME (no challenge at all).

Anyway the next day dawned, not quite as early as the balloon day, we chose a 10.00 start, and we were met in reception by Jacob the Masai spotter, Moses the guide, and Robert, the armed ranger - who turned out to be Forest Whittaker's long lost brother.

From the left, Moses, Jacob, Paula and Forest Whitaker, er, Robert.

Robert was reassuringly armed with a .303 Lee Enfield, the rest of us had pointy sticks. Deciding, perhaps foolishly, that in the event of an attack from a 3 ton Bull Elephant, a pointy stick might be less than 100% effective, I didn't take one, just the camera. 'Well at least I'll get the shot before I go under his hooves' I thought. (Note to self - do Elephants have hooves?) We set off with Robert taking 'point' as he had the gun. I started at the back, and then realised that any pursuit might come from behind, so I surreptitiously overtook Paula ;-)

From the beginning I quickly realised that this walk was going to be something of a trial. Moses, whose english was impeccable, he sounded like a bbc news reader, was clearly a man on a mission not merely to guide, but to educate! His approach was to start by testing the limits of our knowledge. (in my case, quickly found). Scooping up a handful of dung, he offered it to me, asking 'what animals dung do you think this is?' Having no clue whatsoever,in a small voice I guessed wildly at 'Zebra'? His (good natured) scorn was evident, 'Impala' he informed us. And so began an almost surreal period of Moses picking up pieces of animal dung and us guessing what animal had deposited them.

Mrs Axs proved to have a gift for dung recognition, something to do with her university days cleaning student toilets part time no doubt. She correctly identified Zebra, Water Buffalo and Elephant. Had there been a corner of the room, I would have been stood in it. I was hopeless. Eventually I gave up and went for the comedy aspect. 'And this?' Moses asked me, brandishing a fistful of very large diameter somewhat squishy droppings. 'DikDik' I said, with some certainty. 'Elephant' he replied bursting into laugher at my ineptitude. The (ironic) concept of 'Ranger Simon' was born and from this point onwards my complete lack of ranger skills became a source of amusement for all.

We studied berries, and tracks, trees and leaves. We learned of the sandpaper leaf that really was very rough to the touch, and the 'bandage' leaf that felt as soft as the finest sterile dressing.We rubbed green ochre leaves which turned red in our fingers. I cleverly spotted the spoor of a Land Cruiser and correctly identified the tracks as 'Dunlop' - this won me some approval from the trackers.
It was fun. The guys were very kind, and clearly in love with, and very proud of, their country and its wildlife.

Striding out into the bush

Watched, at a distance by an Eland

Gnu were about too

and Topi

Robert on the lookout

A great day!

We got back to Bushtops after a couple of hours, pleasantly tired and happy to have seen some of the bush 'first hand'. Riding around in Land cruisers is very nice, but walking in the bush with knowledgeable guides, takes some beating.

The next couple of days, we did another whole day game drive, and another evening drive, we saw more wildlife, listened to more stories and gradually fell in love with the place. This was our first ever trip to Kenya. Our first ever safari. it won't be our last.

I hope this write up has been entertaining, or failing that, less addictive than valium. For anyone who is a real glutton for punishment, I put together a slideshow of our pix and it's up on Youtube here:
Our Safari Slideshow

If anyone is thinking of staying at Bushtops, (and I heartily recommend it), my trip advisor review is here:

Thanks for reading, and as Ronnie Barker used to say "... and it's goodnight from him".