"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)

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.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


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.