Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nanyuki, Nyahuru, Naivasha, Nairobi, Nanyuki !

Hells Gate National Park, the Fishers Tower just on the left of the track 
I am back in Nanyuki after a rapid round trip. We finished up with the last group and headed down to Naivasha via Nyahuru and a quick look at the Thompson falls. An impressive waterfall with viewpoint and numerous people having a look. We headed into Naivasha wich I have been to before having peddled there from Nairobi a few years ago. We had a day in Hells Gate National park on bikes visiting the climbing area which looked good, short walls with mainly crack climbing on offer. There where numerous groups climbing on a feature called the Fishers tower. 
From there it was onto Nairobi to the International School of Kenya for some presentations on there adventure trips with us next year. They will be doing a bike expedition similar to the first one I did with them as I first arrived. We have a team on the impressive Olokwe which I had a trip up earlier in the year and one which will be doing some service based projects and adventure days. 
A night in Nairobi and some nice Ethiopian food at ‘Habasha’s’ well worth a visit if in town. 

Then back to the rainy Highlands and Nanyuki. Its been very cold and wet up here over the last few weeks but the summer is not far away and should kick in around Christmas. We have a few days to get things counted and the camps put in shut down mode before the holidays begin. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nairobi National Museum

The national museum in the city centre is well worth a look if in town 
I was in Nairobi delivering a briefing to a school. The following morning I had some time free before heading back up North and decided to take a look at the Nairobi national museum which I think would rank as the best sub saharan museum, the Egyptian museum in Cairo would probably rank as the best on the continent but only just. 
The main building has sections divided up into wildlife and the mammals of Africa, the cradle of humankind which is the most interesting and then the history of Kenya which is a little awkward as a Brit. I knew walking along the timeline round the walls that one thing is going to pop up that involves the British. 
I started of with this and it was a very good comprehensive trip round and certainly made me think about the big differences between the west and the developing world as we refer to it. Kenya has in reality had very little in the way of changes in comparison to Europe or the US. There was pre colonial Kenya and then post colonial Kenya and that is about it. Where as we have gone through huge changes we move much much faster, the industrial age, swinging sixties, cold war, the digital age or womens rights, gay rights we have women who want to be men or men or who want to be women we have constantly been moving and changing and adapting. 
 At one stage Africa was numerous tribes all wandering around living in balance with the environment around them and bang in came the British and Europeans moved everything around in a bid to get out all the materials needed to grow the industries and then left leaving with it a political system which no one really knew how to deal with. It took us hundreds of years to develop that system. The Africans have had it landed on them and people seem surprised its not working in the same way. I think the west is guilty of expecting to much sometimes. Uganda is the same having had the parliamentary system rushed into place for independence and then quickly leaving it in the hands of people who didn't really know how it worked and where just power hungry led to a disaster under Amin. The history section was an eyeopener even the section on the railway which had one person quoted as saying ‘its usual for a country to create a railway but most unusual for a railway to create a country’. So it does seem clear that we where doing what we wanted for gains to the Empire and those actions have shaped this continent forever. I also wasn't aware of just how much resistance there was to the colonisation and how ruthlessly it was dealt with. But moving on… 
The cradle of human kind was a very good section which highlights the fact that man came from this continent. The skulls section with remains from as many as 17 million years ago highlighted the evolution of man and how it spread from there onwards to what we are today. I have talked with people who believe in the seven day creation idea in groups but a walk round here would put them in the right direction. All the evidence you need is in this exhibit. 

An extremely old skull around 17 million years in age 
From the museum I headed round to the snake park to have a look there which on reflection I now know I don’t really like snakes. They had them all some of which I have seen in camp or out and about on activities. The Green Mamba I have seen a few times in the forest very sharp and quick. I came across one recently in the canyon with a frog in its mouth it saw me and fled up a tree leaving a grateful frog on the floor. There where two I thought where particularly unpleasant the rock anaconda which was huge metres long and at least a foot thick curled up it looked like a giant tractor tyre. I remember in Shimla in Northern India I was with a group and it seemed the done thing to have a photo taken with one of these snakes across your shoulders. Numerous people went through and I refused having already been traumatised enough by the monkey temple. But one girl in the group had her turn while someone was fiddling with the camera settings she and I noticed it getting tighter and then tighter again, I jumped up shouting get the f$%^^ing snake off and it was a bit of a tussle that ensued to get it off. This was a standard thing written in the programme but the snake was doing what it does which is strangle the victim slowly and then eat them.  

Horrible really a giant rock anaconda ! 
The other was the Puff Adder which as soon as it saw me jabbed the glass window to get at me, I moved on swiftly. From the snakes you moved to a very poorly caged area with holes in it past the different types of crocodiles. The Nile crocodile being the biggest and could easily rip the fence apart I thought. It looked dead but as I peered through the fence one eye opened and it slowly opened its mouth bearing its huge teeth no other part of its body moved it was a bit spooky. This area gave me the jitters and made me think it could only end with some gruesome incident of a tourist being eaten in the museum so I headed to the gift shop and cafe. 

All in all though if you are in Nairobi have a look as its well worth it and there is lots to be learnt especially about the colonial years as I cant remember being taught that at school history was all about a sailor who found a potato and then we won the war.

Crocodile, note the bottom of the fence on the right you can lift up ! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tanzania Reccie

Great biking terrain around the Arusha area 
I have been down in Tanzania recently having a look at some new venues and what could be on offer in the Arusha area for adventure courses. Arusha seems to have grown somewhat since I last passed through here ten years ago on the way to Killimanjaro. Its now a large and sprawling place but clean and well kept. Nestled under the impressive Mount Meru which looks like it would be a good summit and Killimanjaro round the corner it defiantly has a good menu for adventure courses.  The mountain biking would certainly be one highlight. I met with Adrian who has some bikes and runs trips in the area and took me out over the local hills at the back of his place. Great terrain nice open farmland and hills. There should be some nice multi day loops to do and its also possible to cycle down to Lake Manyara which would make a nice trip. I remember staying at the Twiga camp in Manyara a long time ago which would make for a nice finishing point. 
Arusha has a very relaxed pace to it 
The safari parks that are in the area are all the best ones to with Manyara, Ngorogoro, Tarangiri and the Serngeti. 
I checked out some nice sundowner treks one on a hill overlooking Arusha and the surrounding area was very nice. A small rounded hill called Souya which had a nice forested setting. There are numerous small day treks around the town on large rounded tops. 
There is also numerous waterfalls which I think with more time should throw up a canyon and a few jumps into pools which would complete the package nicely. 

Large coffee plantations surround the town on the slopes of Mt Meru 
Back to it in Nanyuki having made it across the land border complete with Ebola check which I have to say was not that comprehensive but I have the all clear which is the main thing! We have a string of Aventure Training courses and some school groups passing through which should keep us busy as we head towards Christmas and the New Year. Its a positive for us that we have plenty of people passing through as tourism on the continent takes a hit with the various security threats and also Ebola which is no where near us but seems to be getting some hysterical reactions from some countries.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pool incident

Ngare Ndare village with Lewa conservancy behind seen from the rock climbing site 
 ‘Please call me’ came the SMS while I was having a well earned brew after a long days biking with the group. I stepped out and called the number knowing little that was about to unfold. It was Ibrahim one of the forest rangers that we use ‘there are two people missing in the river and have been for two hours’. I shouted for Ndorito and we grabbed our kit and the new intern Andrew. We headed down through the forest to the village in failing light to see what was happening. En route we tried to think what could be going on, impossible they where swept away there is no real current in the river, where they lost along the river line in some way? Would we be assisting some other rescue services in a team effort to solve the incident. 
We arrived in the village which upon arrival seemed empty no one was about nearing the river though was a different matter, hundreds where present around a large pool at the foot of a waterfall central to the Ngare Ndare village. We met the Police commissioner and rangers who guided us to the pool. It was quickly obvious that we where the rescue services and that no one else was there to help. On looking into the pool on the approach it was clear by the accounts of between two and four hours and that the pools outflow was shallow meaning they could not have been washed out that we where not looking to save a life anymore. I was a little surprised that of all the onlookers which I would put in the hundreds not one was in the water. Swimming is not a common thing among Kenyans especially away from the major towns. I think a mix of it not being a part of school and also perhaps a fear of what might lurk in African rivers.  
Ndorito looked at me as we where getting our wetsuits on as quick as possible and quietly but simply said ‘dead Dan’ I nodded and we jumped in. We did a loop around the pool noting that there was a reasonable push from the waterfall and looked at some of the undercut embankments in its direction. Nothing was obvious anywhere but we shouted for long poles as the darkness began to creep in. We probed around for a while until we where only lit by poor torches from the embankment. We had noticed while probing that the pool in some areas was extremely deep which had some giant holes among the rocks. Eventually at about half seven well after dark we got out to the Police and Agness who was housing the mother of the missing brothers explaining it was to dark to continue. It was a bit tricky among the expectant faces looking for answers explaining that at this stage we where not looking for people who would be alive anymore it was a case of trying o find the bodies which could be returned to the parents. The mind was spinning as Ndorito took the wheel back to camp thinking of the various miracle stories you see online, had we made an error and that they where just stuck somewhere head above but unable to get attention or in a strange sump underwater and just unable to get out. 
Up early we headed down as the group slept at first light we where back in the pool this time armed with huge poles. The crowd gathered again all intently staring as we worked our way around the brown water a result of the recent rains. Probing bit by bit stirring up the mud moving rocks around but nothing. We made our way out to meet the group as we arrived at camp we heard just as we left a body rose up. This was the younger brother and had a large split to the head making it obvious the jump had resulted in a bang to the head which explains why he never came back up and prompted his brother to jump.
Ironically at this point we headed to the canyon with the group(long way from these pools). As we geared up and headed to the practice pool doing a few jumps to prepare for the higher ones I could see people in official suits heading down to the pool although they wouldn't come near the pool. I was called to them. Six higher ranking police in different uniforms who ranged from CID to Officers requested that they needed more help and could we come again to locate the second body. One suggested that as we started we might like to be the ones to finish ‘oh please let me’ I thought. We finished early that day and headed back to the river once more. 
This time there seemed to be more than ever in attendance word had obviously spread further. In we went and probed for around three hours it was Toby who called me over after a long time suggesting his probe was on something. I took it and immediately jumped out of fright it was a person. I think at home people are trained in special ways to recover bodies and not jump out their skins at the thought. We lost the spot and probed for a long while. We paused thought for a few moments bobbing nervously eyes fixed on the long Green Mamba snake making its way across the pool towards the waterfall. The probes where ten meter lengths of very heavy wood thick at one end tapering towards the other cut from a local tree. I found it again much later this time bubbles came up but it was jammed under a rock, an obstruction or just heavy. It was clearly what we had been looking for. This put me in a difficult decision making position. I was worried about saying to the Police and the huge numbers surrounding us the body is there but I cant get it out. It was about 10 metres down. We had no diving equipment and the water was muddy and you would never see a thing and could get caught up in the terrain below. I knew it would naturally come up sooner or later. There where a raft of holes and what seemed like cave like hollows under there and it would be highly possible I would end up stuck and so made the decision to keep looking for a while and not to say anything. There was no one within hundreds of miles who could have come with that equipment and knowledge. The sad fact was that they had perished and that perishing in the process was not a constructive way of operating in a rescue attempt. The real tragedy was this was exactly what had happened. As we got out the village chief’s remarks where of gratitude to are efforts ‘this has been a wonderful experience’ which I thought was an odd thing to say but knew that he was just trying to express some gratitude. 
 He explained to me what had happened along with Agnes who was looking after the mother, the father was present at the pool. They where casual workers who where home visiting, the younger of the two suffering from difficulties mental or otherwise had threatened to take his life and jump and did his brother jumped in to save him but could as neither could swim and died himself unable to get out. More striking and sad to me to see the look of dwindling hope on the face of possibly the father at my face which had I cant help you written across it as I left the pool edge. He was holding an old tow rope which he threw to the first body hoping he might take it until it was obvious he was dead and that until a second came up and was proved not alive I suspect he will hold the throw line ready in hope. As Peter one of our new instructors went up above the falls to get into the sun and warm up he came across a group of men holding the mother back from the jump as she was determined to join her boys and was being restrained by the locals.  
The second rose a few days later and the two where laid to rest in Isiola on Tuesday. 

This was from the chief of the village at Ngare Ndare 

‘Hi I am writing this on behalf of the Ngare Ndare location to thank Dan and his colleagues for their exemplary efforts to search for the bodies of the drowned brothers. They will be laid to rest today at Isiolo. May they be rewarded equally’

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Yes or No

Where it gets cold and snows Scotland !
‘Why would you break apart something which has worked so well and made you so rich’ 
Asked Mary who works for me in the house I live in here in Kenya. This is from someone who’s government fails her at every turn without her realising the extent. She lives a very different life to those in the UK and couldn't see why we would break apart something which works and provides a stable country for its citizens. Which it does have. 
It seems to have been a turbulent time on home shores and by those shores I mean the Atlantic lapping on the Western Isles as that is where I feel home is, or perhaps Africa. 
With the referendum building major momentum creating both divides and also time to think about the Union between Scotland and England and for many the first time to engage with homeland politics, which has been a positive thing. There are a million now disgruntled people in the North now but also many relieved ones and I hope this divide heals. Its a large one. Which from what I have seen wont and this is a stepping stone the inevitable.
Although London born Scotland really is the only place I would consider moving back to in the UK. It snows there! Which makes it feel more personal than anything which is not what it should be but  perhaps a clear view on the hard facts and then vote. I think the SNP discounted that in its campaign and perhaps never really understood the link many would have to the UK and its history on a personal level. Perhaps they campaigned with to little compassion and understanding for those links as its not just Scots who live in the UK/Scotland, and having spent so many years there  I can understand its not just Scots who care deeply about Scotland. 
I moved to Scotland after a couple of years travel in South East Asia to a small outdoor centre in Argyll and Bute in 98 Ardroy the LEA for Fife county. It seemed more than fitting to be sat in the East African bush with a Fife lad who attended that centre a few years after I left watching the news and feedback together late at night after the results. Where my only gripe was, never watch an American channel when looking at international opinion CNN international is utterly rubbish and devoid of truthful fact. He and I where both pleased with the outcome, he was a Glasgow born lad who grew up in Fife and a staunch Scot and felt that he had lost nothing. His roots where in Scotland and felt very much Scottish and understood that yes it was different to London but then someone in Penzance was also different to those in London. We are all part of the UK which is simply collection of different regions. But also he saw the divide between friends and family which upset him and add the fact that he was sent to places to fight for the UK he saw this as a slight on that and that perhaps his own people didn't support him. 
I think having been fortunate to travel a bit and see other places its often made me see people billing for reform and political change in the UK and the expectancy of more as self centred,  a little selfish and perhaps also wanting to much but perhaps that is how we have what we have, its just a continuing evolution of the political system. 
Having cycled through Egypt soon after the fall of Mubarak and the move to a democratic system during the Arab spring which would appear to have sprung soon faltered and then flopped as the Egyptians cheered in Genral Sisi through a military coo and who walked into an un democratic presidency. I saw the expectancy of change which was expected by the Egyptians the ‘California effect’. The Egyptians on the streets looked despondent as though the revaluation had happened and ‘why are we not driving around in corvettes filled with hot girls and the sunroof’s down’. The democratic process takes years to build, refine and evolve the Egyptians never let that process happen but Scotland's recent referendum has shown the strength of the UK in being able to host that kind of democracy. We should really be proud of how this went. Aside of course from a few dicks in George square who break out in violence most weekends anyway whatever the cause. It allowed people to come out and decide what they wanted for their futures and do that with a democratic and political system that allows people to decide what they want in a transparent and all inclusive way. I should think the Zimbabwean politician Morgan Tvchangerai is deeply envious of this system given the complete calamity that occurs whenever he heads to the polls. As an aside I heard an amusing comment that was made by a Zimbabwean politician recently who in response to Mugabi stating ‘we don't need money from the UK or US go and print your own money’ he replied ‘we would but we cant even afford some paper to print it on’.  The UK’s stable economy which will be due to the Union I think have given many the fear of destabilising it with an independent Scotland. That will have heavily influenced the voters. People should not interpret our economy as weak in anyway perhaps it could be better. But do you get an ambulance, fire service or the Police to come when needed do you have an army will someone get you from the Ben with a broken leg. 
The voters went against leaving the UK on this occasion but I certainly think the margins where to small for this to be the last word and that this vote was perhaps the first step in the separation of the UK in the long run or a move to a federal system. Perhaps I am wrong and the promise of ‘devo max’ will turn out to be the way forward but the impassioned views I have seen will rise again and are only made in favour of all out independence without compromise. I suspect the the opinion when this referendum was agreed was that it would be a way for the Westminster powers to call Scotland's bluff and create the downfall of Alex Salmond and knock the SNP back a few pegs. They certainly wont have someone as sharp and as cleverer politician as Alex Salmond again, as he despite any opinion was a very clever politician and worked wonders for Scotland. Perhaps he went to far in the end and the promises from Westminster can breathe a sigh of relief and ease back on their promises although they should not, I suspect they will. But the idea worked and he is out as far as I can see. The public opinion and rhetoric from the North will have shaken the halls of power to the core and forced a long hard look at the needs and wishes from tip to toe of the country. Which can only be a good thing. 
Its been strange to view this so far from from home but yet feel close to the action and see the reasons banded about on Face Book and other media streams as to why we should split the UK. Talk of corruption and poverty in the UK came up a lot which must be taken into perspective, where I live I pay the police to drive through town and get asked by skin and bone kids for food as they have nothing and all done without the driving pleasure of tarmac, so talk of poverty and corruption in the UK wears thin on me and always has. I have driven and cycled through the biggest slums on earth Kibera in Nairobi and a huge one in Delhi and they are a world apart from UK poverty. Of course we should strive to improve and make things better as a nation as it always has but we should also not loose sight of just how good its been to us. I am the luckiest person in the world when traveling around as my passport is from the UK and its looked after my forgetful ways in various situations when I loose my passport they pave the way to get me home and students who have had a similar problems on expeditions have had the UK government or embassy step in and assure their citizens a safe return. We seem to have a free and open political system which allows people the kind of say we have just seen in Scotland. I remember seeing the disdain that the people of Hong Kong had of the British being in charge when living there. We took it on as a colony simply because we could could make money there, the money which means we have an NHS and a social security system. That money in part was gained by pumping Opioum into mainland China getting them hooked and then selling it in vast amounts through Hong Kong and making a good profit along the way. People are not in my opinion aware of why we are a superpower and so wealthy, we didn't get that footing by simply paying council tax and keeping to PC views we made that through our ‘UK’ actions or the Empire in years gone by which seems to be a taboo to speak of at home. Many regrettable actions will have taken place but it was done together and to try and side step out as there is a bit of oil seems a bit rough to me and a bit short sighted, I thought Scotland was all about the renewables. But anyway that is why we took Hong Kong on. But in 97 as times had changed dramatically from those former years I saw the reality and fear in peoples faces when I watched the PLA march into Kowloon as the Chinese handover happened and the hundred year agreement ended. I worked on the very building that happened and where Chris Pattern made his speech, on the roof which leaked like a sieve, it was Typhoon season and I knew nothing about roofs. A realisation was spreading that China was now in charge of affairs and not such a democratic and free system was moving in. I have seen protests in Southern Africa as the Malawian government had spent all their dollars meaning the country could no longer afford to buy petrol and we drove around with four tanks of fuel sat inside the vehicle. Or the way that the mentally challenged are looked after in Lima, Peru having being taken as a detour on a sightseeing trip through the ‘loco’ (mad) streets where all people with mental issues where housed as a sort of amusing spectacle. And seen the numerous people who have disabilities in capital cities who are forced to beg in Bangkok, Lima, Delhi, Shenzen, Cairo, Nairobi, Daresalam and many more towns and cities in the developing world and even San Fran Sisco where their countries systems cant support them. But ours can and does so we should be pleased that the Union so many where opposed to remains in place and their security remains in tact. To brush those details off would be foolhardy. After a motorbike crash here in Nanyuki I went to the hospital and was asked to pay before I would be seen. I was seen and then had to pay for the Xray prior to having it, then wheeled back to the desk to pay prior to getting my diagnosis, then wheeled back to pay for the medication. If I didn't I would not be seen. At home I can walk into any medical facility and they would help me without asking for a penny. 
Many also seem totally unaware of just how much our government and country helps others around the globe in aid and sometimes force. How many people know that after the scene in ‘Blood Diamond’ where they are outside the hotel in Freetown Sierra Leone and the RUF march into the centre almost immediately after that it was the British who moved in under Blairs orders and smashed the RUF away in just a few days saving thousands and freeing the people of the RUF and their hand chopping off ways. The UK can use itself as something which can help others, it can also cause a mess which it has done in the middle east in removing the dictators and paving the way for Isis to move in. Which in reality the clock is ticking as they move towards the Turkish border with Syria, we are going to have to do something about it and soon. Blairs recent comments of boots on the ground may come to fruition as we may may need to be involved in repairing the mess we have created. 
The UK lives in a way which has taken generations to build, some of the arguments I have seen through the media deride and discount those efforts that committed generations have made. Being a pro unionist I found that a little hard to watch having never really seen the divide being that deep between Scotland and England, as someone mentioned ‘it was always there but this time people where discussing it sober’. 

People at this time should be less focussed on their back yard and internal divisions but instead be thinking how do we as a world united stop the onslaught of Ebola which is a threat that will kill millions if not tackled and has the ability to reach home shores, Isis continues to build wreaking havoc across the middle east and approaches Europe's borders, Russia continues to cause problems in the Crimea and the motorbike police guy near the edge of town continues to hassle me forcing me to drive round the back way via La Rustique where a take away Cappachino costs more than the bribe. There are much larger issues facing the world at the moment and I hope that the UK’s recent referendum and vote of no from the Scottish people allows people to move on and look beyond internal differences and realise the world is a bigger place and stands a far better chance united and perhaps the yes campaigns ‘better together’ slogan could be taken on at an international level. My next group has canceled from the UK as they have been diverted to West Africa to help with the Ebola crisis so perhaps the Eaton lot are thinking bigger than Hadrian's wall. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Game weekend

Buffalo on Zebra plains 
I was out over the weekend with Gareth and Anton who where with us for a trip up the mountain this week. Over the weekend we headed out into the conservancy for some game driving and also a bike safari which all went well and we got some good viewing in along the way. During the briefing to all the mountain team the game viewing began. As the group sat in a semi circle with backs to the fence we ran through the various bits of kit that would be needed on the mountain as we did a large Cheetah walked past the fence line only a few metres behind, certainly the best sighting I have had. 
We headed out after the rains driving past various spots in the afternoon, the main animals where lions of which we saw numerous sightings including an attempted kill and them eating a successful kill. Various other animials which can be seen in this one minute film below which was taken as we drive round. 

a moment in Ol Pejeta from Dan Goodwin on Vimeo.