"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." (Mark Twain : The Innocents Abroad, 1869)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Wandering Wildebeest

Just come across this intersting site that reports on the GPS monitoring of Wildebeest movements in various parts of Kenya.

I understand that there are still some herds of Wildebeest in the Mara but most have now gone South and re-entered Tanzania.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Gennet Guests

Whilst I was at Serian I wrote a number of pieces for their blog.  This is the latest that they have published (The photo isn't mine).

New Team Member
Every evening our guests meet about 7.30pm for a few drinks before dinner, it's an excellent opportunity to swap stories of the day's adventures whilst sitting around the fire.

Over recent months they have often been joined by a pair of Gennets who, at the edge of the shadows, come to take a few food scraps left out for them. As the months have passed, they have become braver and have provided many guests with excellent close-up photo opportunities.

Last night they introduced their new addition to the team - one of their young. It wasn't quite as brave as its parents and disappeared as soon as there was any movement by those present. Hopefully, as it become more confident it will join its parents when they regularly delight our guests.

Gennets are found throughout much of Africa and even in parts of Spain and Southern France. They are slender cat like creatures and have been called 'rat-like' Leopards but only weigh in at between 2.5kgs being about 45cms long. They will eat almost anything they can find including snakes.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Death of a Disco

It is with great sadness that I must announce the death of my Disco.  After taking me on many adventures around southern Africa and being my trusty steed for a number of 4x4 RTV competitions, it has finally succumbed to the dreaded corrosion and must be consigned to the great scrapheap in the sky.

For those of you with a similar vehicle and want to pick over the carcass, there are a number of goodies that I've taken off that might be of use.  Have a look here for more information

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Two Sun Rise

Another piece I wrote for the Serian blog :

Peering into the Stygian starless black that cloaks a vista that you know stretches into the far far distance you can barely see your hand in front of your nose. The dark gradually leeches away, colours start to return as black surrenders to shades of grey. Then to purples as the pink harbingers of the day start to show the horizon.

An orange orb - the harbinger of another glorious day - starts to float into the sky, seeming to speed up as the seconds pass and then to slow as soon as it breaks free of the horizon.

. . . and then another red orb appears, rising from the distant plain but this one doesn't float in serene silence but bursts from the ground with a roar that would have put many dinosaurs to shame. Slung below the orb is a large basket full of guests that have risen from their comfortable beds at a very early hour.

With a couple of bumps they rise into the cool air and, with a couple of more saurian bellows, they are floating up to where only the eagles and vultures usually venture. Slowly they drift across the plains, with a whole new perspective to what had before only been seen from the back of a vehicle.

Soaring over the plains, the lines of Wildebeest extend even further, the herds seem even bigger and the distances infinite. With shrill trumpets, families of Elephants turn, protecting their young in their midst, to challenge this new avian monster. As its shadow passes over the water startled Hippos grunt their displeasure and slip below the surface leaving only their eyes, ears and noses above the water to monitor its passage.

However, many animals completely ignore this new passing cloud. Below the Hyena still lopes along looking for an easy kill or somebody else's left overs. The male Impala still tries to keep his unruly harem together and away from his rivals. And if anything so insignificance could disturb his regal slumber, the pride male remains oblivious to anything but his dreams of fat Wildebeest.

Every type of sun must eventually set and the balloon borne passenger eventually drift earthwards. Awaiting them, under a sheltering Acacia tree is the reward for their intrepid adventure : a champagne breakfast.


Unfortunately, the photos not mine as I didn't have a King's Ransom to go balloon flying - even if I could have got up by 0430 !

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Continued interest

Many thanks to all of you from all over the world that continue to follow my blog.

As a result of a number of factors, I had to return to the UK earlier that I had originally hoped - that's life !  However, the Africa Bug is still creating an itch that must be scratched, so I'm already thinking "where next ?".

There are still bits of my Kenya experience that I want to add to the blog, so they will be trickling on to the site as the days go by.  I'll also be going back to add relevant photos to past postings now I have a decent internet connection !

I've had some "Comments" which you can see on the Blog and a number of direct e'mails - many thanks to you all & especially the occasional comments about my words & snaps.  It would be good to hear from even more of you.




Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Photographs

Uploading all the pictures to Flickr takes too long as you can only do it a few at a time.  So, being lazy, I've put them all on Facebook which allows you to load them all in one go.

Even if you aren't on Facebook, you can see them if you click here.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Serian Safari Camp : A Guest's Video

A video of Serian Safari Camp - my place of work - posted on YouTube . . .

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Mara Moments 2

Further details of this unfortunate occurence appears in the Conservancy Chief Executive's Monthly Newsletter for July.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Mara Moments

The following has recently appeared on the official blog for the Mara Conservancy :

"A party of Kenyan friends were camping at one of our private campsites when a group of armed men entered the camp in the early evening. Shots were fired leaving one man dead and two people injured.

We immediately deployed our rangers and co-operated with the GSU, KWS and the Police. At this time it is not permitted to give any more information on the case, we have however boosted security in the area and now insist that all campers hire armed rangers during their stay."

Following some media coverage in the UK, a number of my friends have contacted me to make sure that we weren't involved and that we were OK.  We had left the area some days before the incident, so I could confirm that everything was OK with us.
 
When we were camping in the Mara we didn't have armed askari / guards and felt perfectly safe all the time but I do understand the Conservancy's new policy.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Bush telegraph

I'm now gradually settling into life and work in the bush.  All the people - guests and staff - are good company and the work's not too hard.

So far I've written an introduction to the Camp to be placed in every room and contributed to the Company's blog.  At the moment, I'm reviewing its (not existent) fire fighting capability - there's isn't a fire engine within 3 hours travel from here !  I think it will result in the purchase of many fire buckets and some extinguishers !

As I get time, I will add postings covering the time I was travelling with Bob, Mary and Michele : they should appear in the right chronological order.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Eating On The Run

The following is an other perspective on the migration written by Eli Weiss of the WildiZe Foundation whose company I enjoyed at Serian.

Our sleek bodies are as golden as the long grass, my mates and I. Our powerful shoulders, legs, ripping claws and three-inch teeth make us expert at killing our prey. Unheard and unseen, we slide like silk through the long grass, finding a good spot hunker down … and we
wait. Across the river we see the strange metal boxes rushing to and fro, filled with the
Two-Legged-Ones, who’s heads pop up and down out the tops and sides, generally making funny chattering noises while they point and click shiny things at us. Since we were little cubs we’ve grown up with them and know that they are a part of the constantly moving landscape around us. Even though they can be scary at times, we know it’s only when they’re out of their funny moving boxes that they can be dangerous, but most times they are not a threat and really don’t bother us much. We can always melt back into the bush, there are many places we can go where they cannot. Anyway, right now, they don’t even seem to see us, so we pay them little attention. Today all of us are focused on the river waiting for the wildebeest to plunge across in their endless cycle of their Great Migration.

All morning we’ve been watching great clouds of dust rise and fall as the cloud cover disappears leaving the burning sun in its wake, baking down on everyone and everything, driving the wildebeest and zebras to unbearable thirst after their long trek. We see them gathering, bunching, tensing; nervously skittering down to the river—they don’t see or smell us
in their desperate need for water. They must drink. It is the pressure of their huge numbers that forces them across the river towards us. We’re ready and we wait, it won’t be long now. We’ve picked a good spot…the bank is steep and difficult to climb on this side with a narrow gap to reach the safety of the open plains. We’re in position, crouched, tense and ready! Ah! There she goes, the first of my lioness’s springs into action––she splits off a small group –dazed and confused from their charge through the water, they spin off in a panic, where my second lioness springs out in front of them, spinning them into perfect position for ambush, where all 500 pounds of my rippling muscular form leaps forward running up the gap behind them, my black mane flying, and with my powerful legs, paws and claws I seize upon the rear flank of panicked herd.
My mates zero in! We’ve got one! Outstanding feline purr-fection ! Time for lunch.

The text and images are : © 2010 WildiZe Foundation

Our own David Attenborough

This video was taken my Mary : her first ever - excellent - video production.

video

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

WE'RE BACK !

The following is an account of the migration from a Wildebeest's perspective that I penned for Serian's blog.

Having past the last few months across the border in Tanzania's Serengeti Plains, us Wildebeest and a few of our Zebra friends are coming back to the Mara as we've heard that the grass is greener here.

First a few of us set off - traveling in long lines across the plains of golden grass - occasionally one of them would grunt as if to confirm that they were going in the right direction.    Trudging Northwards they met up with a few friends who had remained behind from last year, together with the full time residents - Topi, Warthogs, Giraffe, Elephant etc.

As the days went past, more and more of us followed our pathfinders, the initial strings developed into larger groups until it looked like the Indians coming over the hill to meet General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

On we trudged, grunting to each other our agreement that this was a really good idea, occasionally racing ahead or stopping for a quick snack on the new grass.  Once in a while some of us would get confused and set off back the way we had come but we always ended up going in the right direction.

Then we came across a real barrier across the path along which our instincts were drawing us - the Mara River !  It wasn't just its steep sides that were the problem nor the swim across its fast flowing water nor the steep climb out the other side.  What worried us more was the welcoming party that had been arranged by some of the residents.  Crocs lurked in the rushing water whilst Lion & Leopard concealed themselves in long grass or bushes.


On the banks of the river we stood and contemplated the drop to the water, occasionally we
would move up & down to seek better places to cross - hesitating at the very brink.  Then, one of our bravest (or perhaps one with less brains) would take the initial plunge leaving a trail of dust behind them.  Some would chose a gentle slope, others - more adventurous -  would hurtle down narrow chutes to the water.  Once one had taken the literal plunge, others would rush to follow.

The Mara's waters might be cooling and refreshing after days trudging across the plains but they do have their drawbacks !  Hidden just below the surface is often a long narrow snout filled with rows of sharp teeth.  The Crocs make their lunge for unfortunate friends dragging them to drown under the once inviting waters.

Having plunged across the river in an increasing dust cloud, we occasionally suffer from the
lack of foresight by the ones who had selected this particular crossing point.  Our occasional problem is that not every entry point is matched by an easy exit climb up the other bank.  Consequently, our swim is lengthened as we search for an easy way up on the other side.


Gaining the top of the bank, we meet the second element of the welcoming party.  The dash and throat grip of the felines lying in wait in the long golden grass or behind a bush. 

Occasionally, some of us will recross the river as if we had enjoyed the initial experience so much.  However, most of us will disperse over the plains in search of the new grass had had drawn us up from Tanzania.

Monday, 19 July 2010

My New Place of Work

Today my three travelling companions have left me in the middle of the African bush and headed back to the bright lights of Nairobi and their flights back to the UK.

. . . but I've started work here !  Do I miss working in an office in Birmingham ?  What do you think ?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Meeting the Massai Mara Residents

After yesterday's adventures, we didn't make a particularly early start and then we had to go through the formalities at the gate - with both the guy from KAPS - in a very natty blue & yellow uniform - and the Conservancy's own Rangers.  After some confusion about what we had paid and what we still needed to pay we trundled through the gates into the Mara Triangle : at last !

Almost immediately we saw a kill !  No, not a big cat slinking through the tall grass leaping to take a killer grip on a throat.  It was much less dramatic - a Maribu Stork taking a large cat fish from a small pool in a dried river bed right at the side of the road.  Maribu Storks look like old traditional undertakers wearing a black morning coat & white shirt, hunched shoulders who walks with a slight stoop on spindly legs.  It made numerous efforts to swallow the fish whole but it was too big.  So it would drop it on the ground and peck bits off and try again.  All was going well for it until another two of his colleagues arrived and made it clear that they wanted to share his prize.  With this encouragement, he soon managed to force the fish down and claim it all for himself.

On the way through the NR, we stopped off at the massive Serena Lodge so that I could meet and thank William Deed from the Conservancy who had speedly answered, via the Conservancy's website, my queries about the campsite and paying fees etc.  After our adventures the previous day, the others also took the opportunity to ask which was the best way back to Nairobi after they had left me behind.  The answer was basically, back the way you came : not necessarily the answer they really wanted.

After tea and cakes in the relative luxury of Serena's terrace, we headed South to find our home for the next five days.  I knew where it was located - roughly : between the 'main' road and the Mara River about 19 Ks South of Serena.  We drove down to that general area and although there were several tracks in the area, there was no sign as to which was the right one. 

We carried on without any luck down to the South Mara Bridge where the Rangers based there agreed to show us the way.  We trundled North again following their little Jeep until they stopped and pointed to a small indestinct track into the bush.  They continued on their way and we bumped off down the track, across the open bush and into the trees.  Snaking through the trees, the track took us to a shaded open area on the banks of the river.

We set up the tents so that they created to sides of a rectangle, with the other two sides being made by the river and the Landy - the hope was that this laager would protect us from what ever we needed to be protected from.  At no time during our stay did we feel threatened whilst in the camp but see the blog entry for 31st July for a different perspective.

Massai Mara

We are now in the wilds of the Massai Mara miles from the nearest flush toilet and even further from an internet connection.  Until we can get our own pictures uploaded, this will have to suffice as an indication of what we should be seeing !  Hopefully our snaps will be as good . . .


Sunday, 11 July 2010

. . . and so, at last, to the Massai Mara

Another relative early start sees us off on the road to what is, certainly for me, the highlight of the trip - the plains and rivers of the Massai Mara.  A place a large proportion of the world has seen through wildlife programmes on TV but few will be lucky enough to visit.

The original plan was to take a back road from close to we camped, through what's left of the Mau Forrest, down to Narok and on to the Mara.  However, local advice was that the back road had been washed out and that it might be foolhardy to attempt it.  So it was back to Naivasha, South around Mount Lononot and then on to Narok.  As this would probably take longer, I offered to drive as I was probably more confident in making the Landy go faster on the local roads.

The plan was to stop in Narok to provision for our Mara adventures - then it suddenly occurred to us, it's Sunday and the shops may be closed.  We reached Narok, a dusty two street town, which is the regional capitol and, to our relief, both the Indian supermarket and the local stalls were all open.  The supermarket wasn't quite as good as the YaYa Centre in Nairobi but it had most of what we  needed for six night self-sufficient life in the bush.

Topping up with fuel, we headed out of town and soon found a sign to the Mara Serena which I knew was a few Ks inside the National Reserve on the way to our campsite.  However, opinions within the Landy were divided as to whether it was the correct route !  Local advise was taken and followed : so we backtracked a short way and headed off along a long, bumpy and dusty back road.  Some started to doubt that was the right road and, again, local advice was taken - we continued long the long, bumpy and dusty way.  The dust was as fine as talcum powder and as soon as we slowed down, the cloud that followed us caught up and it was like being in a fog..  We, eventually, turned left on to a tarmac road but unfortunately this soon reverted to another long and bumpy road but this wasn't as dusty.

The road went on, farmed land eventually gave way to open plains with the occasional Thompson's Gazelle and eventually turned away from the hills to which we had been driving parallel for some time.  This started to worry me as I knew from maps I'd looked at that the NR gate through which we were supposed to enter, was tucked under such hills.  So - again - we took local advice and, thankfully, it was confirmed that we were indeed still going the right way.

Going through a small Massai village - a scattering of huts and a few sparse shops, the 'right' road turned into a closed road : the road had been washed away and was no longer viable - even for our trusty Landy.

By this time, the light was definitely beginning to fade and thoughts of having to put up camp next to a Massai village were starting to float through my tired brain.  More local advice and some quite emphatic directions - he was even prepared to come with us to guide us through the diversion.  Unfortunately, we did not have a spare seat as the massive bedding bag was taking up any spare room on the rear seats.  Despite such emphatic directions, we soon lost the plot.  Local advice was yet again sought - Why, oh why did we loose the GPS ? !  This brought home our arrogance that everybody understands or speaks English, when all we received in response to our questions was a smile and/or a blank stare.

Eventually, I saw a Manyatta (a group of huts surrounded by a thorn boma) outside of which were a number of tourist safari vehicles.  Getting a bit disparate, I headed off across country in a straight line to see if they could help us.  One of the guides offered to show us the way, if we would pay his Picpic (motorcycle taxi) fare back - this time Mary vacated her front seat and crammed herself in the back.

On the right road and our guide thanked & paid, we were soon at the Oloololo Gate and its adjacent campsite - no way were we going to make it to the Serena public campsite, yet alone our booked on at Kiboko.  We waved our paperwork purchased in Nairobi and said we would sort everything out in the morning.

The campsite was already home to a large overland truck full of Spanish travelers but we managed to fit in around the edge.  As we started to put up our tents, it started to rain.  Whilst Mary and Michele immediately received assistance from a number of handsome neighbours, Bob and I struggled on alone !  Our evening meal was quick sandwiches and we were soon in bed.  I slept through the Spaniards returning, surprisingly quietly, from watching their team win the World Cup but did surface briefly when Hyena raided the camp's rubbish dump.

A long and trying day but at least we are now in the Mara !

Saturday, 10 July 2010

To Hells Gate and back !

We'll at least for the other three as I decided to have a quiet day around camp. The others came back with tales of their adventures around the rocks, sulphur springs and geothermic steam - they even saw a few animals. Almost as important was that they had purchased a supply of firewood to sustain us during our stay in the Mara.

Just as I was attempting to stow the wood securely on the roof of the Landy, the heavens opened and rain came down in stair rods. I was, despite a waterproof jacket, quickly soaked and the others, probably wisely, decided to take shelter in their tents. Once soaked, it seemed logical (at the time) to carry on and get the wood secure and dry on the roof. Once done, I headed to the bar and, before anybody noticed, headed to the toilet to put my trousers back on (I'd worked in my underpants only). I grabbed a hot drink, sat hogged the fire and watched the rain whilst waiting for the others to emerge from their shelters.

As the next few nights were going to be self-catering, we had desided to eat at the bar and were fully entertained by a not too noisy local stag night.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Lake to Lake

The original plan was now to head to camp one night on the shores of Lake Naivasha and then the next in Hells Gate NP. On reflection and discussion, we decided to stay two nights in Naivasha and visit Hells Gate on an easy 'day trip'. The road South was one of Kenya's major trunk roads, so the surface was good enough to enable to be maintained - it even had crawler lanes on the hills.


After a short stop at a farm shop for some excellent ice cream and a Massai curio shop, we found ouselves off the main drag and into the small one street town of Naivasha : we only stopped to top up our supply of kerosene for our lamp. Out the other side we headed along the Southern lake shore, passing a number of massive greenhouse clompexs - one at least specialised in roses. We hadn't decided on where we were to stay - originally we had thought of Fisherman's Camp but subseqently had heard good things of Camp Carrnley.

We confused the gate keepers at both by driving in, looking around and driving out again in quick order. We eventually decided on Camp Carnley and found a likely spot for the tents but decided to have lunch before erecting them. Whilst the others prepared our feast, I went and talked to a group who had seemed to have nabbed the best spot. It had a small shelter under an arch formed by a fallen tree. They were Americans based in Naiobi who said that they were leaving shortly and, if we could wait, their site was ours.

After making camp, we decided to get some exercise and walk down the road to Elsamere. This is now a conservation centre but was once the home of Joy Adamson of "Born Free" fame : hence Elsa-mere. It was set high above the lake with great views Northwards. The draw for me was that they provided highly recommended free afternoon tea on the terrace surrounded by Colubus monkeys - free in as much as it was included in the entrance fee. There seemed to be little indication of any conservation work and to earn your free afternoon tea you were expected to be awed by the small museum about the Adamsons and watch a old scratched film about their work, I'm afraid that I skimmed the first and fell asleep in during the second. Tea on the terrace overlooking the lake was as gentile as it sounds, Not quite cucumber sandwiches without the crusts but close. Savoury mouthfulls, trifle, sponge cake, oaty biscuits - all seemed to have recognisable English origins but the receipies had been colonised over the years,

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Technical Hitch

It seems that asmy laptop runs on Linux rather than Windows the local cell phone company's dongle won't work !

So up dates will be slower coming than I had hoped.  They will now probably come in mini-avalances.

Please be patient.

Flamingos & Rhinos

An early(ish) start took us back into town to find the entrance to the Nakuru National Park. As ever, there was a distinct lack of road signs and our guide book vaugely said it was "on the South side of town". After driving through what seemed to be a government / judicial area, we found the imposing entry complex and easily negotiated the gates with our Nairobi Safari Card.

We were soon faced by Lake Nakuru - the NP's main feature. From a distance it seemed to be surrounded by a very fetching pink border. As we drove closer to the lake shore, this resolved itself into thousands of Flamingos wading and feeding in the shallow water about 50 yards off shore. Occasionally, a few would take flight and, in line astern, skim across the water to join another group elsewhere along the shore.

We were joined on the shore by a succession of school buses that disgorged streams of well behaved and smart in uniform children. They seemed mesmerised by the sight before them - running down to the water edge and peering our. We lent them our binoculars for a better view and fairly orderly queues quickly formed - naturally, their teachers jumped straight to the front.

We headed off around the NP in the plain between the water and the trees. It was dotted with game - the usual suspects : Buffalo, Waterbuck, Waterbuck, Baboon, Gazelle, Impala plus the stars : White Rhinos.

Cruising the tracks we search the bush for other animals but no Lion or Leopard or any thing else exciting seemed to be willing to show itself. Traveling up the Eastern edge of the lake we were supposed to see a large Euphorbia forrest on the slope of the hills - but they all seemed to have been reduced to wizzened stumps !

On the way back to camp we stopped off in town - the girls to seek some retail threapy, whilst us boys needed to see to our toys. Both Bob and myself wanted to obtain local SIM cards for our cell phones and I wanted a 'dongle' through which I could access the internet whilst I was in the bush for the rest of my stay. The SIM cards were no problem, neither was the purchase of the dongle. However, sitting in the local posh cafe, there was no way I could get the dongle to work. Hiking back across the street to the Orange shop, its techie guy had a quick look and almost immediately asked me which operating system did my laptop have - Windows or Mac ? Neither I says - its Linux. Sharp intake of breath from the techie. Sorry it won't work with that. I think - Bummer !

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Down to the Rift Valley

An early morning start saw the dark giving way to mist cross the hills and moors. In the NP there are a number of waterfalls you can walk through the bush to visit - as ever you had to keep and eye open for the local inhabitants as the Buffalo droppings on the path warned. The narrow path wound through the bush and, as we descended, the water noise grew louder. The falls came vertically from the top of a cliff and fell about 50 metres into a pool behind which there was the Queen's Cave.

There was a small slippy and rapidly decomposing walk way that led into the Cave and behind the falling water. There wasn't that much of interest in the cave but its roof was low enough for me to leave some of scalp behind. There was much experimentation without camera shutter speeds as we tried to take imaginative snaps.

As we retraced our steps up the path, we came across a Bush Buck on its margins. We expected it to drive into the bush and to leave only the sound of it crashing through the undergrowth. Instead, it just stood still for a while and then started feeding again. We gradually inched closer and, hopefully, took some really good photos of this delicate antelope with a russet coat studded with small white patches on its rump. It seemed completely disinterested in our presence as we inched quietly closer until telephoto lenses were no use and we had to switch to wide-angles. Eventually, we had to walk past and it preceded us, sill unconcerned up the path.

Whilst completing the inevitable paperwork to leave the NP we noticed a stake driven into the ground with a modified plastic water bottle on the top. It looked like some sort of bird feeder but on closer inspection, we found that it contained a cell phone. The NP rangers explained that it was the only spot where they could receive a signal so they left their phones there, under the cover of the bottle, to pick up calls as they arrived.

Once outside the NP, the road soon started a steep and winding decent on to the floor of the Rift Valley. Despite being well outside the NP, there was still sign of wildlife with Elephant dung on the road and monkeys in the trees. The map showed that we would meet a tar road at a T-junction where we would need to turn right. This came and went and we saw a sign to the town of Gilili which was also on the map as one we needed to pass. However, after some time it seemed as if we might be on the wrong road. Once again we resorted to asking the local police for directions - this time a very smart Sergeant with a swagger stick gave us clear and unambiguous directions to Nakuru - the day's destination. With hunger pangs starting, we pulled off the road on to a grassed area on the edge of a forrest. With a couple of minutes, the Sergeant pulled up to make sure we knew where we were to go, another couple of minutes passed and another police car pulled up to check if we had a problem - all very reassuring. Our final visitor was from the forestry office which had been told of our presence - its man made it clear that we should have asked permission first but, on this occasion, it was OK to stay.

We continued our passage along our route, past a big army camp, and eventually met a main dual carriage way - this was the road we should have used but I think our, unintentional, diversion along minor roads was probably more enjoyable (if slower) route to have taken.

After a brief stop in Nakuru town to buy some more supplies in the local Asian supermarket, we headed North in search of our camp for the night - Kembu Farm. The campsite was on a grassy slope shaded with large trees. Areas had been flattened for tents, an occasional kitchen area with a large bar / eating area at the top.

The site's proximity to the farm gradually impossed itself during our stay - the bleating of veal calves, separated from their mothers in an adjoining film, the lowing of cows waiting to be milked, the rattle of the milk being collected at 0400 and the odour when the wind was in the wrong direction.

As we were close to Roving Rover's base we took the opportunity to get them to come out to fix the fuel guage which now constantly read empty and the front door locks that either didn't work (passenger) or were a bit hit & miss (drivers). We also asked them to bring items we had ordered but had not been included when we took delivery of the Landy ie an extra water container - ass we would have to take all our own water for our 6 days in the Mara, a panga - a machette to chop wood and the gazeebo - to provide shelter from the elements.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Income generation

This was seen on the way out of Nairobi.

I think that this may be taking public sector income generation a bit too far !

To the Aberdare Hills

We had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony - Eggs (boiled/scrambled or fried), sausage & bacon with warm bread rolls followed by an amble around the fish farm. This laid back start was, with hindsight, perhaps a mistake but more of this laster.

Our route took us back South for a while before we turned Westwards towards the Aberdare NP - described as Scotland with Lions. There was some debate as to the correct turn off, so I reverted to the SatNav - only to find that I couldn't find it. We turned out my day sac (twice) and rummaged through the Landy but with no positive result. I membered looking at it during the morning close to where we had parked the Landy, so we went back to the Cottage and searched all the possible places I could have left/mislaid/lost it. All to no avail - bummer ! It wasn't so much the loss of the piece of tech but that it made navigation so much easier. So back to dead wood navigation with the road atlas.

The leisurely start together with the return for missing tech, no meant that we would probably not have the time to follow the planned route to the North of the NP. This would have taken us through the Northern part of the NP - the Salient where the famous Treetops & Ark lodges are based - which is usually off limits to independent travelers. Instead, we traveled further South on good roads with the plan to enter the NP further down with the reduced need to travel the slower NP gravel / rough internal roads. The road map showed the road but not all the other ones that actually exist. We eventually found a road sign to our intended entry gate but asking for confirmation from a policeman at a nearby road check provided contradictory advice - the first of many such instances. After some distance, we asked again and were directed down a small rough road that led up, through steep sided valleys, into hills dotted with tea plantations and forestry. After stopping to scavenge some firewood from the forest floor, we let ourselves in through a big electric fence which must have been the official boundary.

It was some time before we came across the barrier with the Ranger to check our Safari Card and let us, officially, into the NP. Problems. Pious, the Ranger, couldn't get in contact with HQ either with his radio or his cell phone. Eventually, he suggested we went just inside the NP to a picnic site to have a snack & drink. Eventually, we were let - officially - into the NP but without the required paperwork which would be 'sent' to our exit gate.

The NP was like no other I've visited in Africa. Thick green vegetation - both trees & bushes - came down to the road side. It wasn't jungle but almost like what would expect to see in Europe. There was plenty of signs of big animals being present - dung and broken vegetation - but the greenery was so thick that a herd of Elephants could have been with a few yards and we wouldn't have seen them. However, much to everybody's delight (especially that of Bob), we came across a small lone bull grazing happily in a small opening at the road side. It took no notice as we edged closer for a better look / photos. Reluctantly, we left him to his solitary feeding and, eventually, the vegetation changed to more open moorland where we saw a selection of buck. Their identification was a problem as they looked different to the ones we were were used to in Southern Africa.

We reached our banda - Fisherman's Lodge - in plenty of time to unload and settle in. We had been told that there was a central kitchen (shared between the two bandas) and that you had to bring your own wood & light. In practice we had our own kitchen, the Ranger who looked after the bandas provided kerosene lamps for all rooms and had, if we had needed it, a supply of wood. Before leaving us to our cooking, he asked what time we were going to get up the next morning - so that he could light the 'donkey'. A 'donkey' is a feature of many African campsites & bandas - it provides hot water by the simple method of lighting a fire under a horizontal oil drum full of water !

Whilst our dinner was being prepared, buck wandered past and we kept an eye open for the Ele & Buff that we had been told also frequented the local bush. The day ended very pleasantly sat around a roaring log fire drinking alcohol laced coffee followed by a very snug and warm bed.

Hakuna Matata

It didn't take long - we've already been subverted by the African approach to life : "There are no worries here."

Monday, 5 July 2010

Out of Nairobi

Today is the real start of our exploration of part of Kenya. So, we launch ourselves into the maelstrom of traffic and try to find our way out of the City and find the road North towards Thika. Sounds easy ? Try it when you are playing dodgem cars or without any road name / direction signs when the roads are being dug up. All I can say is thank goodness for a Sat Nav and Tracks4Africa maps. Without it we would have, inadvertently, seen more of the City than we needed and have taken many hours to orchestrate our escape.
Much of the road North seemed to be in the process of being improved which slowed us down but as the Landy seems not to like going over 70KPH, it's not too much of a problem. Very gradually we left the urban sprawl and the traffic gradually thinned out as we entered the more rural environment. We stopped for a tea break at Apple Lea Resort - a grand name for a basic cafe cum butchers with a few rooms attached. However, it had shaded tables in the garden and the tea was very freshing. As we found later was the normal way it was served by way of thermos flasks with milk, sugar & tea bags served separately Had we wanted a more substantial meal we could have selected one of the chickens from the cage in the garden.

On with the journey, we passed many small farms / small holdings and the occasional small town where all life seems to be conducted on the narrow dirt strip between the road and the spectrum of small shops./ tables in garden / chickens in cage for dinner. Almost inevitably, the was a request for some retail therapy when we came across a massive craft centre - it had a very impressive range of goods but seemed to lack any great number of clients. Hunger getting the best of us, we stopped on the side of verdant deep ravine at the bottom of which we could see but not hear water. However, as we eat a steady number of locals passed us with empty containers returning after a short time bent under the weight of the water now in their container. The lucky ones were on cycles which took the strain.

As the afternoon passed, the schools finished and we saw streams of children, most in smart uniforms walking home. They seemed to range from 15/16 year olds to those who seemed barely beyond toddling. Villages gave way to rolling high moors reminiscent of North York Moors. The constant throughout the journey (and for the rest of our time in Kenya) was the blur of Matutus as they speed past. These are small mini-buses river that, on fixed routes, cram in many more bodies their original design originally envisioned. They have a notoriously bad safety record and despite being subjected to many many police checks. It's often difficult to tell when you pass the check whether they are waving us in or a vehicle behind. It got to the stage that we largely ignored them but checked in the rear mirrors that the police weren't running for their cars to chase us !

Across the moors was our accommodation for the night - Colobus Cottage at the Trout Tree Restaurant The restaurant is well known and is built of a number of platforms in a massive Fig Tree looking down at a fish farm pools down the rest of the wooded valley. The accommodation, recommended via a contact on the Trip Advisor site who was aware of its presence but nothing more, was an unknown. As we bumped down the rough track to the restaurant, we saw the corrugated sheet roofs of some small dwellings - our first assumption was these modest places were our next home.

Little did we know - the cottage is in fact the home from home the enterprise's directors when they visited from Nairobi. We were directed through a rough little gate onto a balcony in front of a large wooden cottage. The balcony had a dinning table and a selection of soft lounging chairs & sofas. The front doors (there were two) led into a large lounge with another large table and evening more lounging opportunities. The latter were congregated around a large open fire place. There were two large double bedrooms, a single room and another with bunks. So, a room each, a choice of toilets and a massive deep stone bath / shower. It appeared that at part of the Cottage's electricity was derived from a hydro generator on the large stream that fell down the valley and fed the fish farm's various pools.

Having explored the Cottage we set off into the grounds, restaurant and fish farm - all set in the green valley with trees populated by elegant black and white Colobus monkeys. Back and the Cottage we were served afternoon tea on the balcony and offered the restaurant's menu from which to order our evening meal. At the edge of the balcony was a red Bottle Brush Tree full of brilliant Sun Birds sipping flower nectar,

After 1600, the restaurant closed and we had the whole place to ourselves - apart from Nancy who was to cook and look after us. Our evening meal was served on the balcony lit by kerosene lamps. Afterwards it became a bit chilly and, feeling full and very satisfied with our home for the night, we retired in doors to fester in front of the roaring log fire.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Arrivals and Preparations

Sunday, 4th


So here we are in Nairobi - I suppose that every journey has to start some where but what an assault on the senses ! There is the usual energy and development of many large cities in developing countries but the traffic is something else. For a start there's lots of it - of all different sizes and types. The from the ubiquitous Chinese single gear cycle heavily laden with the necessities of domestic and industrial life to HGVs and long distance buses that ply between countries through out Africa. In between there are cars, lorries, taxis, tuc-tucs of all different sizes, age and state of disrepair. It's not that unusual to see a vehicle that had been involved in some major accident crabbing down the road with a repair that hasn't quite straightened the whole thing. This mass of movement would be OK any rules of the road were followed but it all seems to be a free for all with traffic lights being advisory only. Hiving said that, there is not the aggression you see in the UK and very few vehicles show any sign of collision.

We are staying for the initial nights at the Methodist Guest house which is somewhat of a misnomer - it's actually more like a hotel with good clean rooms with TV. It also boasts a large out door swimming pool, beauty/hair salon and a music shop that will also teach you various instruments. It also has a range of meeting rooms which had been taken over by a range of religious services and Sunday schools - lots of joyful singing and drums. Many of the other guests seemed to be religious based groups from around the world & Kenya but there seemed to be no other overt sign of its Methodist roots - apart from the lack of a bar !

The whole idea of staying a night in Nairobi was to undertake the practicalities of provisioning and purchasing the Safari Card for the national parks and for the entry etc to the Massai Mara NR. However, the whole exercise is delayed by almost three hours when Roving Rovers are late in delivering the vehicle. We never really understood the reason.

Just down the road from the MGH was the Ya Ya Centre. A shopping centre with a good supermarket and many high-end / designer shops. There was also a very nice bakery at which we rewarded ourselves with a coffee and freshly baked baguettes.

Close to Nairobi NP where we bought our Safari Card was the Giraffe Centre. It's attached to Giraffe Manor which has undertaken a lot of work in saving the Rothschild Giraffe from extinction. You can stay at the Manor - for a goodly sum and share your breakfast with Giraffes who put their heads through the window - but the Centre had an education centre and a raised platform. The platform was at (Giraffe) head hight and there was a big bucket of food pellets to feed to the Giraffes. This was either one at a time thrown onto a long lounge or, if you were 'brave', your put it between your lips and it was licked from your face !

By the time we had finished here it was getting dark and we had an 'atmospheric' trip in the dark through the haze of cooking fires and the fumes from the traffic jams we faced. Back at the MGH we had an excellent buffet for our evening meal and were then nulled to sleep by a distant Norwegian Pentecostal choirs practicing some of their hymns.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Up up and away

Today's THE day ! ! !

To save leaving Brum very early in the morning to travel down, I travelled down last tonight and stayed at the Easy Hotel (no smart cracks please) - just a quick shuttle ride to Terminal 5. It's the first time I've flown from there, so the trip's new experiences will start almost straight away.

After using my AmEx credit card for years I've amassed enough Brownie points (aka BA Air Miles) to use them to travel in premium cattle class !  A £900 return flight for free - apart from years slaved to places taking AmEx cards.  Seats in this cabin give an extra 7" of leg room (bliss); 2" more recline (snore) and 1" more in seat width (no comments please). I'm also allowed a second piece of hand luggage and 2 pieces checked luggage (max 23 kgs each) - shame I shall be travelling light.  Some of the spare weight will be taken up by bits I'm taking out for people at Serian Camp.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Relief

The clouds that had been looming on the horizon look as if they are blowing away - Yipee !

The union involved in the BA strikes have said that there will not be any more during the Summer and the vehicle hire money, that had been lost in the Kenyan banking system, has now turned up.

I think we have also sorted out how we are going to pay the fees to stay in the Mara. KAPS have recently been appointed to collect all fees on behalf of the Conservancy and it looks as if we can pay everything at their HQ in Nairobi. This will save us carrying around almost £2,000 cash for a week until we enter the National Reserve. However, we can't use a credit card and have to pay cash in Yanqui $ as we are foreigners.

It looks as if I can get all my stuff in one 23kg bag, so that I will have plenty of capacity to take stuff out to Sarah at the Mara Predator Project and Mark at Serian. Though both are running out of time to let me have their stuff.
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Monday, 21 June 2010

1,000 Visitors

I've been surprised how many people have visited this site - it was originally only supposed to be a way to help us plan our trip to Kenya.

Now it's broken the 1,000 barrier and many people (>13%) are coming back for a second and third visit.

I'm glad it's been so popular but my only disappointment is that so few people have left a comment. I suppose I will just have to get used to 'talking' to myself.

Reports over the past few days indicate that the migration has already reached the Massai Mara and that today the first few Wildebeest have crossed the Mara River. We initially thought that we would be there too early in the year to see this spectacle but it seems as if we may be lucky !

The only cloud on the horizon is that the balance of the owed money I had transfered to Roving Rovers doesn't seem to have arrived in their bank account ! It's gone from mine and I have paid both my and RR's bank costs but the actual money is missing ! Patrick at RRs seems fairly laid back about this but the last thing I want is to arrive in Nairobi and there not to be a Landy to take us off on our travels.
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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Serengeti Super Highway

The Tanzania Government is considering a proposal to drive a major highway across the Serengeti Plains just South of the border with Kenya and straight across the path of the world famous migration.

There is wide spread concern across the world about this road and its impact on both the migration and the wider Serengeti / Massai Mara ecosystem.

You can see articles on this via the following links :
- Frankfurt Zoological Society
- African Wildlife Fund
- New York Times
- National Geographical

There are strong arguments for the benefits such a highway will bring to communities to the West of the Serengeti but these need to be balanced against wider impacts both in Tanzania and Kenya Massai Mara.  Perhaps a different route might be more appropriate.

The Americans already have a petition against this but the UK Government has, unfortunately, withdrawn its  on-line petition site.  If you'd like to feed your thoughts into this debate, sign the American petition, email the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators or join the Facebook site.

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world" : John Muir
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Monday, 17 May 2010

Will we, won't we ?

The normal excitement of a rapidly approaching trip is being magnified by the uncertainties created by Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano and British Airway's industrial relations.

The volcano may have an impact on us arriving on the planned day but only I will be affected by the latter as the others are either flying KLM from Newcastle or Virgin from Heathrow.

The others may also come under the influence of the volcano when they return at the end of their two week trip.  Hopefully, by the end of September when I return, the eruptions will have subsided.  Otherwise, an extension of my visa will be on the cards and I will be forced to spend some more time in Kenya - what a hardship !

On top of this Kenya seems to be benefiting from some good rains - hopefully things will have dried out somewhat by the time we arrive.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Itinerary

We've spent a long time researching and talking about a possible itinerary that doesn't involve too much time driving around and also enables us to see more than just wildlife. The following itinerary seems to be our current plan but I'm sure it will be changed as we progress around the country.  We'd welcome any feedback from experts etc.

Day 1 NAIROBI
Buy provisions & Safari Card / Pay Mara fees / See the sights (Methodist Guesthouse)

Day 2 To Abadare area (Trout Tree Resturant Cottage)

Day 3 : Abadare NP (KWS Fishing Lodge)

Day 4 To Nakuru (Kembu Camp)

Day 4 Nakuru NP (Kembu Camp)

Day 5 To Naivasha (Fisherman’s Camp or Camp Carnelleys)

Day 6 To Hells Gate NP (KWS Ol Dubai Campsite)

Day 7 To Massai Mara via Narok to buy provisions (Oloololo Gate or Serena campsite - or, if we are early, straight to Kiboko Special Campsite)

Days 8-12 Massai Mara Mara NR (Kiboko Special Campsite)

Day 13 Return to Nairobi

Monday, 12 April 2010

Chinese Take Away or Trading Elephants for Chopsticks

Channel 4 is one of the UK's principal TV stations and its "Unreported World" programme has gone undercover to investigate how the increased Chinese presence in East Africa has lead to a huge increase in elephant poaching, with potentially devastating effects on tourism and the local economy.

A summary of its findings can be seen at the station's webpage and the following is some of the more shocking findings :

The team are told that poaching is highly organised and fuelling other crimes. Poachers are armed by criminal gangs, and then use money from their proceeds to buy more weapons. 

They saw the mountain of ivory in two strong rooms - 65 to 70 tonnes, worth millions of US dollars. The tusks were impounded to take them off the market in the hope of killing demand, but an illegal trade continues. Officials tell that the Chinese are behind the trade, in which ivory is smuggled to the Far East to be made into trinkets such as chopsticks.  It's alleged that Chinese embassy officials smuggle ivory out of the country in diplomatic bags that don't get checked. Then, astonishingly, it is alledged that when President Hu Jintao came on a state visit to Tanzania in February 2009, his officials left with up to 200 kilos of illegal, smuggled ivory.

Tanzania has a well-managed elephant population but the programme investigates claims that the government has covered up the loss of 30,000 elephants in the Selous Game Reserve. They travel to the village of Mloka, which is at the centre of poaching in the reserve. Criminals in the capital Dar es Salaam organise expeditions of up to 30 armed poachers, who travel in military vehicles so that they are not stopped in roadblocks, and leave with up to 300 kilos at a time.

One safari operator claims that the Tanzanian wildlife department is aware of what's happening and may even be turning a blind eye to the illegal trade. He also confirms allegations that buyers from China and the Far East are fuelling the trade.

The Chinese Government said that they are against the illegal ivory trade and denied allegations that Chinese diplomats illegally purchased and exported ivory by misusing diplomatic immunity in 2009.

Tanzanian's Acting Director of Wildlife, Obedi Mbangw refused to comment but the government has subsequentlyindicated that it will investigate the evidence gathered in the film.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Malum Africanum / Mal d’Afrique / The Africa Bug

In an earlier posting I pondered on why I (and others) are repeatedly drawn back to Africa.  The following is another perspective from a Dutch contributor to Trip Advisor’s Kenyan Forum :

A visit to Africa may result in your becoming afflicted with a malady for which there is no known cure . . .
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The condition has afflicted many people over the centuries.  Some of them were great explorers, others great physicians.  Way back in ancient times it had already been identified and given a name, “malum africanum”, by the Latins, today known as “Mal d’Afrique” by the French.
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There is no escape : no known remedy.  They can now join those born with the condition in Africa and help fashion its image in a culture that aims at a fullness of human dimensions, good to serve as a global one.

The symptoms are extraordinary.  The scope of our vision changes and you become preoccupied with distance, far horizons.  At the same time you notice small things, subtleties that previously seemed irrelevant – shades of colours more noticeable than the colours themselves.
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Your hearing intensifies; mechanical noises offend you as never before.  You detect melodies in the trickle of a stream, hear voices in the rustling of leaves.  The things you do in life become less important than the things you see, feel, and can touch.

And then the smell !  The smell of life in the first rain falling on and fertilising the arid soil and making it bloom with green grass and life-sustaining crops.
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In the African bush, far away from surroundings you are accustomed to, you feel as though you have come home.  Some say your spirit recognises the birthplace of its origin, others say you feel an overwhelming presence of the Creator in the scope of communal life.
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In this country which abounds with nature, we have the most wonderful story to tell and yet we don’t tell it.  God is exposed in this land.  It is as though God mixed the ingredients of the earth here.


I wouldn't disagree with anything she says but still I remain uncertain of the true source of the continent's continuing attraction.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Another Step at a Time


We had originally hoped that at the start and end of our trip that we would stay at  the Wildebeest Campsite as it seemed to offer VFM accommodation, was in a good setting and received good reviews.  However, it couldn't provide exactly what we needed and then didn't bother to respond to any further e'mail queries.

So before any more decent (and cheapish) accommodation disappears, we have booked into the Methodist Guest House.  Not that we a particularly religious group of people but it seems to offer good accommodation (B&B) at reasonable rates (about £25 per person per night), transfers to and from the airport, secure parking, three restaurants + a snack bar and two pools.  The only - slight - disadvantage is that being Methodist, it probably doesn't have a bar !  To add to its attractions, it also receives some good reviews on the Travel Advisor site.

It is fairly conveniently located close to a couple of good supermarkets at which we can provision before leaving Nairobi and from which we can fairly easily reach Nairobi's attractions if we decide to spend some time in the City before heading out to the 'bush'.

It's now only a couple of weeks before the three of us get together for the first time to discuss our two week's exploration of part of Kenya.  I've a good idea of where I'd like to go and what I'd like to see - but the others may have completely different ideas ! !

Friday, 12 March 2010

Our First Decision

We've taken our first decision - that is apart from deciding to go to Kenya and hiring a 4x4 - but the rest is still up in the air !

However, we are all sure we wish to visit the Massai Mara (to see where David Attenbourgh has spent much of his life) and, whilst we are there, that it would be good to have a real Africa experience.

So we are combining the two and have booked a few days at one of the Mara Triangle's Private Campsites.  After a bit of research - on the interweb and exchanging e'mails with Alex at Serian - we've booked the Kiboko Campsite.

The camp is situated in the Southern portion of the Triange about 4.5 miles as the vulture flies North of the Tanzanian border. For those who want to look it up on Google Maps and see how remote it is, its co-ordinates = S1°29'29.88" E 35° 2'9.99".

Located on the West bank of the Mara River, I think we can guess who will be close neighbours as Kiboko is Swahili for Hippo !  However, as the camp is unfenced it is probable that other neighbours will also pay us a visit at some stage.  Others, using similar sites, have had quite exciting visitors as they have recorded in their own blog.

It is a campsite in its strictest sense as there are no facilities - not even a long-drop toilet - and we will have to carry-in all our own food, drink and fuel.  However, it is in the middle of the Mara and nature has provided lots of trees under which we can find shady pitches for our tents.

There are a few restrictions :
    - no bathing in the river (Crocodiles !);
    - no feeding the animals (they may take more than you are offering);
    - don't stray more than 25 metres from the camp (no matter how fast you think you can run); and
    - no loud music (the animals aren't into discos and complain).

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Getting there before it's too late !

Surfing the intergalatic interweb thingy finding out about things to do and places to go has highlighted a number of interesting facts etc.

However, one of the most worrying has been a number of references to the overdevelopment of the Massai Mara.  A local newspaper reporter says "The allure of the Masai Mara is turning out to be its achilles heel, with the ecosystem facing an imminent collapse under the weight of heavy investments by hoteliers and camp operators".

He goes on to highlight that developers are disregarding the sensitive nature of the Mara's ecosystem and are now threatening not only that area but also the wider area that encompasses the Serengetti.  Some camps were originally just 'temporary' to cater for the number of visitors during the high season - but they remain after its end.  One five mile stretch of the Mara now accommodates five camps.  A number of the Triangle's Private / Special Camps - renown for their peace and isolation - have been withdrawn following the development of lodges on the opposite bank of the River.  In another area, there has been a big development within an area crucial to the local Black Rhino population.

It is reported that "To stem the human activity that now threatens the Masai Mara ecosystem, Tourism Minister, Najib Balala has launched a plan to shut down camps and lodges operating illegally starting next week. There are 108 camps and lodges in the Mara by the last count. Stakeholders are, however, calling for the gazettement and impementation of the Mara Management Plan that promises to offer a long-term solution." 

It seems to be high time that the powers that be - both in the Mara area and in Nairobi - get together to agree a plan for the future of all parts of this sensitive area.   It should cover the National Reserve areas on both side  of the Mara River (currently administered by different local authorities) and also the surrounding conservancies.  BUT the plan needs to be more than a piece of paper - it needs to be enforced.

Already the Mara has already lost 50% of its wildlife in the past 10 years.  Also, since both County Councils agreed a moratorium on new lodges in 2005, another 50 have appeared in the Eastern / Narok part of the Mara - that's 10 every year !
 
If it is not enforced, there will be a lodge or camp under every Acacia tree and 20 combis around even the smallest animal.  Once that happens, the Mara will lose its special place in people's hearts, they will stop coming and everybody will be a looser !

Following writing this post, this interesting article about lodge/camp developments in the Mara subsequently appeared in the Kenyan Star newspaper.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Research : As much fun as the trip - almost ! !

It's almost as much fun researching a trip as it is actually undertaking it.  With paid work being scarce at the moment, I've been surfing the great interweb to see what we can feasibly include in our itinerary without spending all our time bouncing around on Kenya's roads.
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As all of us have an interest in wildlife and, in some cases, birdlife the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) website has been a great source of information on the national parks and reserves.  The KWS is a massive organisation that manages about 8 per cent of the total landmass of the country. This includes 22 National Parks, 28 National Reserves and 5 National Sanctuaries, together with 4 Marine National Parks and 6 Marine National Reserves.
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The difference between a National Park (NP) and National Reserve (NR) is interesting and I found this official definition of a NR : "A National Reserve...is a local term denoting area preservation where the reasonable needs of the human inhabitants living within the area must take preference. It is in the nature of a compromise between a National Park and a Game Reserve, where the establishment of a National Park – although eminently desirable – is not easily possible".
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For instance, the Maasai Mara is a NR with the land still owned by the Maasai people and they derive revenue from its use as a NR.  In addition, they still have, to an extent, access / grazing rights.  The western part of the NR is managed by the Mara Conservancy on behalf of the local authority. This is a big business with US$235k being collected in entrance etc fees of which US$ 129k went to the local authority, with the remainder used to manage the NR.
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So, what are the candidate attractions  - i.e. those we can visit without spending too much time driving ?  The following are some of the more obvious, although the other three may well have different ideas :
  • Aberdare NP : Described as "majestic peaks, moorlands and falls" - Scotland with Lions !  It is also the home of the famous "Treetops Lodge" where Princess Elizabeth heard of her father's sudden death and that she was now Queen.
  • Ambolseli NP : Famous for photos of big tuskers with the snows of Tanzania's Mt Kilimanjaro in the background.  In a US$ 1.35 operation, KWS have recently moved 7,000 zebras and wildebeests here to restore the predator/prey balance.  This was needed following the fiercest drought in 26 years that devastated the ecosystem last year when 50% of Amboseli’s wildebeest and zebra population was lost.
  • Hells Gate NP : This small park, close to Lake Naivasha, is named after a narrow break in the cliffs and is unusual in Kenya in that you can hike and cycle amongst the game.
  • Lake Naivasha NR : This is on the edge of Hells Gate NP and in addition to a healthy population of Hippo has a wide range of bird life.
  • Lake Nakuru NP : The major attractions around this soda lake include many Flamingo (Greater and Lesser) and both Black and White Rhino.
  • Mt Longonot NP : Close to Hells Gate NP and Lake Naivasha lies about 90km from Nairobi. The ecosystem mainly comprises of the mountain rising to 2,776m above sea level. In addition to the wildlife, other attractions include the extinct volcano and the crater forest, views of Lake Naivasha.
  • Mt Kenya NP : Mt Kenya, at 5,199m, is the second highest peak in Africa. It is an important water tower in the country providing water for about 50% of the population and 70% of Kenya’s hydroelectric power.
  • Marsabit NP : Quite a long way north of Nairobi, it has densely forested mountains with three crater lakes. It is said to be the last refuge of the huge-tusked bull elephants 
  • Massai Mara NR :  Is the quintessential safari destination with rolling savannah covered with thousands of animals - you expect to hear David Attenborough's whispered tones as a background to every view.  Unfortunately, we will not be there when the great Wildebeest Migration passes through this area (luckily I will still be there in August / September when it usually arrives) !
  • Ol Pejeta Conservancy : The only place in Kenya where there a Chimpanzees and it is also the home of the largest Black Rhino Sanctuary in Africa - it also is home to some incredibaly rare Northern White Rhino.  If we visit, it would probably the only change we would have for bush walks and night game drives.
  • Ruma NP : Only 10km east of Lake Victoria - it's off the usual tourist circuit and, as a consequence, receives few visitors.  It comprises savannah open grasslands & woodlands with a variety of wildlife.  The most notable is the Roan Antelope which is not found anywhere else in the country.
  • Tsavo East & West NPs : Combined these NPs cover almost 21,000 Sq Kms divided by the Nairobi to Mombassa road.  The western portion is more popular on account of its magnificent scenery, Mzima Springs, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, rhino reserve, rock climbing potential and guided walk. Tsavo is also famous for a pair of man-eating lions that caused mayhem by killing 140 workers on the railway as it passed through this area.

In addition there are the attractions of Nairobi in which we might indulge at the start and/or end of our trip :
  • Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage - Daphane Sheldrich was the first person in the entire world to successfully hand rear newborn Elephant orphans and this orphanage now extends it care to Rhinos as well as wider conservation initiatives.
  • Nairobi NP - the Big Five within sight of the City's skyscrapers.  A visit here would also allow us to acquire a KWS Safari Card.  This is, in effect, advance payment for entrance, vehicle and camping fees at most NPs & NRs that means that entry to most parks is now 'cash less'.
  • Giraffe Centre - dedicated to the protection and reintroduction of the Rothschild Giraffe
  • Snake Centre - As well as research work & displaying some of Africa less-seen animals, the Centre acts as a refuge to a number of abandoned, threatened, rescued and unwanted reptiles.
  • Railway Museum preserves and displays of East Africa's railways from their inception to the present day
  • Carnivore Restaurant is considered ‘Africa's Greatest Eating Experience' with every type of meat imaginable, including a selection of game meat, roasted over charcoal and carved at your table.  They also have a vegetarian menu.

I suppose it will be a balance between seeing different parts of Kenya against spending too much time travelling.  Although some of the distances on the map may not look too far, the predicted travelling times are much longer than might be expected.  However, whatever we decide, I don't think we will be spending a great deal of time searching for President Barack Obaba's ancestral roots.
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We are all meeting up on 17th April to sort out what we would like to do and what is reasonably possible.  Watch this space for final details !
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Although I've taken out the usual travel / medical insurance, I've also become a member of the Kenyan Flying Doctor Service .  At a cost of only $20 / £13 for annual membership, it seemed too good a bargain to miss !

Monday, 25 January 2010

An Adventure of Three Parts

The big adventure starts on Saturday, 3rd July with the usual visit to Heathrow and, at the moment, doesn’t have a definite date on which it will finish. However, I do have a flight provisionally booked back to the UK on Tuesday, 19th October.

The first part of the adventure is two weeks travelling around Kenya with three friends – we are hiring a 4x4 and camping equipment. Having looked at some expensive UK based companies and many cheaper (but unknown) Kenyan companies, we settled on Roving Rovers. Other than the fact that they use older vehicles, they seem to offer the same as other companies but cheaper. We will be using a Land Rover 110 Defender - otherwise known as the Landy. One great advantage is that they seem to be the only hire company that has vehicles with large game viewing hatches in the vehicle roof.

One of the reasons we settled on Roving Rovers was the good reviews they had received by a number of people on various on-line African communities. Sites like the Lonley Planet's Thorn Tree and the Virtual Tourist are great places to fill in some of the gaps left by traditional guide books.

The friends (in alphabetic order) - who all met through Birmingham Inter-Varsity Club) are
   - Bob : an (sub-Sahahan) Africa virgin,
   - Mary : who has travelled in Africa with me twice, and
   - Michele : who comes from Jo’berg (but now lives in the UK's North-East), has seen more of Africa than myself, has travelled with me twice before.

We are still to get together to decide what we want to do /see !

The second part of my time in Kenya will be spent working in the Serian luxury safari camp in the Massai Mara. I will be working alongside camp management and Massai staff helping in all aspects of running this safari operation and help introduce the local population to the benefits of eco-tourism. There should also be an opportunity to become involved with the Mara Predator Project. The icing on the cake is that the world famous migration should be transiting this part of the massive Serengeti / Mara ecosystem whilst I am there.

The third part is after my departure from Serian on 9th October – I have yet to decide what to do until my flight back. Perhaps go and see Uganda’s primates or tour Tanzania’s southern circuit of National Parks ie Selous and Ruaha . I'd alo like to visit Gombe Stream NP where Jane Goodall did her ground breaking chimp research - but it's in a remote area and difficult to visit : perhaps next time !

Back to Africa !

So, once again I plan to return to Africa and friends and family again ask "WHY ? You've been before !

Why go back yet again ?"

. . . and they may have something - looking back I've visited Sub-Saharan Africa 10 times over recent years.

So there must be something drawing me back. However, like many other people who admit to this addiction - for that is what it is - I can't put a finger on what that something is.

Some wit said "Everything in Africa bites, but the travel bug is worst of all."

The most scientific based explanation I've heard was put forward by Richard Leakey, the famous paleoanthropologist and fellow Africa addict. His theory was that as all mankind has its origins in that continent, when we visit it sets off some genetic level resonance which, subconsciously, establishes some powerful link.

Whatever the reason, I'm going back ! ! !