Monday, May 31, 2010

Nanyuki adventure

Having returned today from a little adventure with S, I thought it a good time to write again.

School broke up for a ‘mini’ half term last Friday, so we took the opportunity to go away for a few days with our friends M and H, and their children. We decided to go to Nanyuki River Camel Camp, which is about a three hour drive North of Nairobi and across the equator border. It is run by an old Cambridge Uni PhD grad, who spent many years living a nomadic lifestyle in order to understand and assist Northern Kenyan pastoralists in becoming more self reliant in food. His target population was the camel owning nomads, and as a result he became familiar with traditional nomadic houses that originated in design from Somalia, and he spent many years living along the Ethiopian border helping these people. When he retired, he set up this camp, which has the traditional Somalian huts and eleven camels that are used for camel milk and camel rides across the nearby plains.

S and I stayed in the petite domed banda which is put together with sticks and covered with straw, and has a mud floor inside. A small table made from a log was the only furniture apart from two wooden stick structure beds which were fitted with heavy woollen blankets. The door to get in was just about big enough for a small child or hobbit to enter, but after we crouched through, it was like entering Dr. Who’s Tardis, suddenly feeling much bigger and we were able to fully stand up. The beds were very comfortable and warm at night, but as there was no electricity, we used a small paraffin lantern to give light to the interior. To eat, I was served a delicious camel dish, whilst S had a tasty potato stew. We sat outside and dined on low tables with big cushions, illuminated by candlelight under a glorious star filled sky. To wash, in the morning, a big bowl of steaming hot water from the fire was given to us, and we washed our hair using a bowl and a metal cup. It was remarkably liberating even though we both smelt of wood smoke for hours afterwards!

On the drive up to Nanyuki, we encountered two clearly dodgy but comical policemen (unfortunately rather common in Kenya because they get paid little) who alleged that we had been speeding, which we most definitely hadn’t been. One said to us in a friendly way, ‘Give me money’ to which we replied in an equally friendly way, ‘No, we don’t have any’. The whole exchange was quite bizarre as a minute later, an official police car pulled by. One of the policemen was rattled by this and tried to make a quick exit. The other, who had asked for money, just totally changed his manner, shrugged and said, ‘Have a lovely day’ and just let us drive off. The whole incident lasted less than three minutes- but is a sign of how far spread corruption is here.

On the first full day, we visited the Mpala Research centre which is where H lived and undertook some of his PhD research about bat eared foxes for six months. It was quite surreal but funny too as to entertain the kids, they had to play nursery rhymes and so we drove around to the sound of ‘London’s Burning’ and E singing ‘Three Blind Mice’.

The views were magnificent- a combination of vast reaching yellow plains topped with bright blue skies and deep iron red soil with mountains rising in the distance. We scaled the edge of an escarpment and were rewarded with a brief viewing of a cheetah in search of prey, and then even more exciting, our first ever viewing of a Grevy’s Zebra. Grevy’s are considered endangered and are only found in the North of Kenya and Ethiopia, sadly in small numbers. They have a very different pattern to the Plains Zebra, with a distinguishable black stripe that runs down their behind and with white bellies, they are also quite large. We spotted two or three, amongst a herd of about forty Plains which started to gallop across the plains in such a way it was breathtaking. We also were amazed to see a large herd of grey elephant, including a baby that couldn’t have been more than a month old judging by its small size. They were approaching the river for a midday drink. On the way home, to a stunning backdrop of Mount Kenya shrouded in white cloud, we came across a huge group of camels grazing- obviously popular in this area.

The next day, S and I arose very early, at 5.30am, to have a quick breakfast before heading out to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, just 15km from the Camel Camp. We had a small run in with a pair of iffy gate guards who tried to cheat us. We had entered through a little used gate at the far end of the conservancy and were clearly the first people to arrive at the park. It cost 4000 shillings for the two of us, and I handed S the exact money alongside our residents permits. S put the money on the table whilst one guard fiddled around with the receipts. At the end, the guard said we had only given him 2000 shillings. S insisted that he had, but the guard was very sneaky and kept saying that he hadn’t. There was another guard who had been walking around and to the side of S, and only when I started to sing and dance about how I wanted to speak to the boss as I knew that exact money had been given, the money was miraculously found on the floor near the second guard. Luckily, we took the receipt and left, slightly saddened that the men had behaved in a deceptive way but relieved that they had been unsuccessful.

We were not bothered for long though, as within ten minutes of driving across a magnificent plain of tall green grasses with the grand Mount Kenya, without a cloud in sight, as the backdrop, S saw what turned out to be a spotted hyena crouching half in and out of a hole. We paused for a few minutes to see what would happen, and then suddenly three big fat warthogs unexpectedly jumped out from underground running away at speed with their little erect tails standing on end, and then the hyena emerged with a big piece of hairy covered flesh in its mouth, looking directly into my camera, just long enough to snap it. Shortly after that, we saw a small black backed jackal run across the track and then be chased away by an antelope twice its size protecting its young.

As part of the conservancy, the famous environmentalist, who I once met in Shanghai, Dr. Jane Goodhall has set up the Sweetwater Chimpanzee Orphanage. Chimps are not indigenous to Kenya, but the reserve has been set up as a safe haven for rescued chimps who have suffered from the illegal bushmeat trade. It was sad to hear the stories of how dreadfully these chimps have been treated at the hands of humans, included one, called Toto, who was kept in a cage for nine years and can now hardly walk. The orphanage was originally intended for Burundi, but was unable to be built there due to civil unrest. The little chimps that we saw are the lucky ones that have been saved.

The rest of the safari showed us plenty of antelope, giraffe and other plains animals and just as we were about to leave, S spotted a lioness stalking through the long yellow grasses. We opened the sun roof and went in pursuit and watched her as she gracefully and easily paced across the land. It was a super end to a morning safari.

We departed the park and took our photos at one of the famous Equator crossing signs, and allowed a local man to show us how the water changes direction in its draining from North to South before heading back for the scenic drive back to Nairobi, passing numerous shambas, including huge flower farms and fields covered with the spiky green leaves of pineapples (belonging to the Del Monte family). We really enjoyed our adventure, as it’s always good to see new animals and scenery, Kenya has such a big variety to offer.

Things that we have been doing for the last few weeks include going to the SATC 2 first screening at Westgate. We also had a more luxurious experience the previous week when we were invited to the notorious and swanky members-only Muthaiga Club for an exquisite birthday tea party for a lovely little girl that I support. Little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts removed and profiteroles filled to the brim with cream, as well as scones served with jam and fresh clotted cream. There were fancy cake stands and tea cups, and we loved it. S must have eaten half the cake! The Muthaiga Club is the place which features in the film Out of Africa. Karen Blixen arrives off the train from Denmark and unknowingly enters the gentleman’s club looking for her fiancé and is demanded to leave as she is a woman. It’s about a hundred years old and has a lot of prestige and old colonial values even today. We were shocked to see half of a stuffed lion in a glass case, which it turns out, used to be on display without the case, but the men there used to get drunk and use it as shooting practice, and so it had to go behind glass!!

The week before last, S took his class out to Hell’s Gate National Park for a day trip and they had fun walking through the deep gorge, and they showered in the natural hot springs that occur there. We also attended a fabulous college graduation barbeque to celebrate the students heading off to university.

A few weekends ago, I helped to organise with my Aussie colleague T, a successful PTA quiz night for parents and staff in our club house, to help set up a school PTA fund. About forty people attended and S’s team came third- quite well considering I kept the questions top secret.

So life continues and its our wedding in less than two months- am v.excited!!

Tuo Nane (see you!)

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