Kenya – the land that first sparked my interest in Africa and lodged itself deep inside me for nearly 40 years until I had the opportunity to come here. Those of you who have read the ‘about me’ section on this blog will know that it was the film ‘Born Free’ that did it, and since then I’ve wanted to visit the rolling plains and numerous wildlife here. I found another volunteering project with African Impact and I was not disappointed:)
My journey here was an adventure in itself. I had discovered that I could fly from Bristol to Nairobi instead of making the journey to Heathrow, so on Sunday morning I left home at 6.50 and was inside the airport 15 minutes later. I was due to make a short flight at 09.15 to Amsterdam and then 75 minutes later fly on to Nairobi, landing at 9.40 p.m. local time, which is 2 hours ahead of us. Things didn’t go to plan however as Bristol Airport was fog bound, and I was still sitting there long after my connection from Amsterdam had departed without me. A bit of research showed me that there was an overnight flight that I could potentially catch, but it had one seat remaining and by chatting to other passengers it transpired that there were at least 6 of us on the same route. When we finally got to Amsterdam, KLM were very efficient and had already rebooked us all onto a flight that was leaving 45 minutes later. This flight however was going to Dubai, with yet another connection on to Nairobi. So, instead of spending the night in a bed in Nairobi, I spent it on a packed Air Kenya flight, finally landing in Nairobi at 0800. A 6 hour journey by road followed with a couple of short stops. One was at a viewpoint overlooking the great rift valley. It’s the largest terrestrial geographic feature, and measures 3,728 miles from north to south. I finally arrived at my destination after leaving home 31 hours earlier. I use the term ‘road’ very loosely – the final 90 minutes were on an ungraded gravel track which was so bumpy my whole body was itching due to the severe vibrations!
6 other volunteers made the journey with me, and there were already 4 others at the project. We were based inside Naboisho conservancy on the edge of the Masai Mara, and there are no fences around our base, meaning that a night time visit to the toilet block had to be undertaken with a torch to shine around before venturing out, as there could be lions, leopard, hyena, or any other predators prowling around.
One morning we got up to discover that the branches of a large bush in between the bedrooms and the toilets were broken, and that means that an elephant or elephants had been right outside my room in the night!
A conservancy is an area around the edges of the National Reserve and has been known in the past as The Group Ranches. These have been commonly owned and grazed by the Maasai living on them. However in exchange for a guaranteed monthly income, the Maasai have agreed to areas being managed mainly for wildlife and tourism. Seasonal grazing is allowed on a controlled basis, but the effects of overgrazing by out of control sheep and cattle numbers has been greatly reduced. The effects are huge. Not only do the Maasai people get a guaranteed tourist income, but the wildlife habitat is so greatly enhanced that the best animal viewing experiences are often in the conservancies. There are fewer lodges in each conservancy than the Masai Mara itself, which is state run, and tourists can only visit if they are staying in one of the lodges in the conservancy. As the camps are kept small with no more than 12 tents, and a ratio of 1 tent to 700 acres, it means that we see very few other vehicles whilst out on drives and we are not vying for the best position at a sighting.
On my first drive out I saw Zebras, Wildebeest and Giraffe in the first 5 minutes, and I love the fact that we had such fantastic African wildlife right on our doorstep.
During the course of that first drive we went on to see Ostrich, Jackals and Waterbuck,
And also learned the difference between Impala, Thomson’s Gazelle, and Grant’s Gazelle. (Hover over the images for captions)
New antelope to me were the Topi, and I’d only seen a couple of Hartebeest before – they are the biggest antelope in Africa and can be absolutely huge at 135 cm at their shoulders. In complete conrast is the tiny DikDik which are only 30-40 cm high at their shoulders.
The first night I was cleaning my teeth at the outdoor sink and heard hyenas whooping – I have no idea how close they were but it was great to hear them.
On other occasions I heard elephants trumpeting and lions roaring – all whilst standing outside wondering how far away they actually were. Providing the various animals are making a noise I’m pretty confident that I can tell when they are too close for comfort, so rather than being worried I stand there thinking how much I love being out in the African bush!
The accommodation on this project is very basic with a couple of dorms and some tents. There is a toilet and shower block, and if we wanted a hot shower we had to wait until the afternoon, as a fire had to be lit underneath a boiler in order to heat it. It’s surprising how little it matters though – luxury is nice, but the experience would be completely different, – you wouldn’t really get to know any other guests, and it’s the friendships that you make on experiences like this that make all the difference. Hover over the photos for captions.
There is a very patchy internet or phone signal there, so the volunteers spend free time actually talking to each other and playing board or card games instead of being glued to ‘phones 🙂
Sunsets each evening are spectacular.
Whenever I’m in Africa I gaze up at the sky every night. There is such little light pollution that you can see so many stars.