Monday, September 14, 2015

Olokwe Photo Blog

John at the top, I have been here four or five times now with John on reccies and group trips, an exceptionally nice Samburu Masai who I look forward to heading up there again with him. Its nice that its not a show piece these guys are just as they are and not putting a show on. If you look at the road, where it bends it looks like a river flows to the right Johns home and village is near the edge of the image. 

Can you spot the group all 28 are in this image, big country. 
Under the Acacias at base camp a very hot place but these hardy and very thorny trees seem to survive well in the climate. 
Base camp a proper bush camp with no facilities, make your own loo and forget about the shower till you get home. Burtons first experience of the North. 
And he found it a bit to hot on the first day often sleeping, but spent the whole night sat up peering out the door listening to the heavy barking from the Baboons looking very nervous as to the possibility of there being a giant dog somewhere near by. Baboons sound very big at night when they are shouting. He had to sleep inside due to the leopards which would have got him in the night. 
Myself and John Lesseppe at the top, John is the head guide at the Namunyak conservancy and works with all our groups, he has a wide knowledge of the area and the environment we are operating in. 
Dagama who works with us at RVA carefully prepares the goat for the BBQ all the blood has been drunk and it made for a great meal that night. Its where your food comes from, but with the Masai nothing goes to waste a very humain way of eating. 
The sun sets on another night on the tops 
A great group as usual who enjoyed one of the most unique and special places I have been fortunate enough to work in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ethiopia Reccie : The Blue Nile

The old bridge over the Blue Nile 

The Blue Nile Gorge the river is in flood due to the rains so a little brown 
There was no way you could get it into a photo the scale and beauty of the Blue Nile Gorge it was something which was a bit to big for a camera to handle. The Great Rift really coming into its own. I visited a the ruins of Tekle Haymonot II and his wife Aster in Gondar. As we passed one ruin the guide said you know Brrrr ‘sorry what was that’ you know ‘brrrrce’ ‘sorry I am not getting it. It turns out a Scot was there living in 1770 with the Emperor called James Bruce from Kinnaird Stirlingshire. He was on a very early quest to discover the source of the Nile. He believed he had found it on picking up the Blue Nile believing that to be the source. Although his logic and accounts from the time where good. It couldn't have been as its in Khartoum where the two converge continuing as the White Nile to Alexandria and the Med but the White Nile starts in Uganda so he was a little out. Despite being a fair bit out on the source he did make a fairly remarkable journey to reach the Blue Nile Gorge. Arriving in Alexandria he set off crossing the desert to arrive in (Jidda) (Arabia) now known as Jedda dressed as a Turkish sailor recrossing the Red sea with the Turks and then onto Gondar two years after he started. An impressive journey. It was also told to me that he got Aster pregnant which would be fairly typical of a wandering Brit although evidence doesn't suggest this. Sadly too prior to his Nile escapades he was very keen on the study of ancient sites through an attachment to the British consul in Algiers he visited Palmyra which yesterday I believe was blown up by Isil. His journey to Palmyra was in itself an impressive feat shipwrecked near Benghazi Libya he managed to swim ashore eventually managing to reach Crete he then traveled throughout the middle east making it to Palmyra. Which it would appear is not there in its entirety now, perhaps something which has gone back and forth for a millennia warring tribes go back and forth destroying and warring. 
A kind of Gretna Services in the North but different but the not bad Sky Bus pictured. 
We stopped on the way at a very rain washed town which I think was called Desil for lunch. The coach driver though seemed to pass up on the Injira and swiftly took at least five beers and large ones at that which was a bit worrying. Once we left there the bus started dropping into the Nile gorge it took nearly an hour of hairpins and narrow sections to reach the bottom. The journey took an extra thirty minutes on account that as we started down the hill a kid through a stone through the window. Rather ironically when I took a seat on the bus I failed to read the seat number which was in Amheryic the man who’s seat I was in got a little tetchy kicking me out and onto another seat. He ended up with a rock and window in his lap which I have to admit to throwing him a rye smile when it happened and we had to alight. The police where less interested in the window once they saw me and instead wanted to examine my paperwork and know what I was doing. I could see that they where angling for something but the paperwork was all in order and the surrounding crowd of onlookers to big to start haggling. 

The scene on the far side of the gorge, it gives some idea of scale, the huge gorge pictured above is in the top right of this image the Ethiopian highlands is a huge landscape. This was after a very long time of winding up hairpins passing trucks similar to the Rho Tang pass in Northern India although nothing will compare to that drive in terms of fearing death at any moment. 
We dropped down into the gorge which opens out as a spectacular river course. A high bridge crossing which looked fairly modern. I had a walk around the edges and down the gorge a bit. Baboons where everywhere and due to the rains everything was bright green and well grown which felt pretty tropical although with the rains the Blue Nile was more of a Brown Nile.

The Taitu Hotel in Addis Ababa, total luxury ! 
Back on board it was a few more hours of rain and hail before reaching Addis 18 hours after departing. A quick haggle on arrival and it was off to  the Taitu hotel in the Piazza area which is effectively the centre. The Taitu Hotel is the oldest hotel in Ethiopia and to be honest that would be the first thing you think when you arrive. The Piazza area is a very hectic area and not that easy to relax in. As soon as I arrived at the reception there was a Belgian who was trying to make arrangements after having his bag slashed and everything robbed which never puts me at ease. From there to the room dump bags and head to the restaurant for something eat. The second I sat down a rather stunning lady came and sat down opposite explaining to me  ‘nice englishee boy shouldn't sleep lone’ ah the backpacker area and its joys and temptations. In fact it said specifically on my rooms wall ‘strictly no paid sexing’ the very fact it says that indicates its not poshest of hotels. A bit of a Koh San Road in Bangkok the Piazza area holds all the wrong things to see in a country but quite exciting when your young. I quickly swerved off to join an Israeli who looked like he was just up for dinner and no sexing. A nice guy from Tel Aviv who promptly said ‘my backpacking days are over fancy moving over to Bole area tomorrow to a nice quiet guest house’  ‘yup I'm in’. He was there for similar reasons, a work related trip but couldn't help go and look at where the LP sends backpackers, perhaps it gives you a taste of the good old days when that hassle hustle and bustle was exactly what you wanted. He had been about a bit spending time in India and South East Asia but the last few years in and out of Ethiopia which I have to admit to not believing in but he seemed to pick up on that quickly and never laboured that point. I stayed where we headed on the way out ‘Mr Martins Cozy Place’ a German run guest house which I would highly recommend in the Bole area of Addis. I was tired when I arrived and had a bust foot I also knew exactly what the Piazza area would be like and know exactly what dollar rooms are like but you do have to do the Taitu once for historical reasons if not pleasure.
A round up of some other spots I saw and Ethiopia as a place to visit coming. 

Flying back and a nice ariel view of Lake Turkana as it came came back over Kenya. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ethiopia Reccie : Gondar

Fasil Gebbli, The Royal Enclosure, Gondar 
Like Cairo you arrive in a place where the history goes so far back you struggle to comprehend the dates and start to realise that things where happening here on earth a long long time ago. Although sometimes with a similar pattern, progression and evolution in building and technology but also in the need to go to war with the others each of these realms always had the need to go to war. Something perhaps which has remained today, we have the Iphone and the Ghurkin in London so technology and building has been progressing since then but wars still continue between religions or simply a difference in people which if you took the religion out would still remain. Many people will blame religion but take that away and the same would still happen its just a case of being the dominant realm, group or country its what humans do. 
Gondar was made the capital of the Ethiopian Empire in 1635 by the Emperor Failides. The guide book is correct in its opening quote ‘its not what Gondar is but what Gondar was’. The temples and churches around the city are like something out of an Indiana Jones film with overgrown walls, turrets and palace’s. The main one is the Royal enclosure which homed many of the great emperors of the time. 
Tour Guide in the Royal Enclosure
I met with a great guide which I would normally pass up due to the additional cost but on nearly all those occasions I have left the site having no clue as to what I was looking at so this time I went with the lady pictured whose name was unpronounceable. She walked round the various buildings running through the timeline of history and the ins and outs of the various dynasties all the way through to the Italian occupation. The Italians had tried to play catch up with the other European powers and colonial powers having taken up positions in now Eritrea and Somaliland which where fairly invaluable areas colonially speaking but subsequently tried for Ethiopia which didn't go so well. Centring their occupation in Gondar until the British Allied forces moved in ending that occupation during the second world war. Although the Italians had tried numerous times before to colonise Ethiopia they managed it only briefly. 
This led to a rather awkward moment on our tour. At one of the buildings which was being explained to me was destroyed by the Italians. The lady emphatically started telling this was the moment the Allied forces came in, ‘who could have stopped them the Italians could not possibly have beat the British’ I realised a troubled tourist guide next to mine was telling the same story to a rather sombre looking group who where all ignoring him and looking at my guide and her side of events. They where a group of about 15 Italians on holiday. The icing on the cake was her finishing line with all looking she grabbed my arm saying ‘so we thank the British for ending that’ she flicked a dirty look to the Italians and we proceeded through them. Me fiddling with my phone trying not to look anyone in the eye until we reached the next building. There are Italian influences when you head downtown in Gondar perhaps the same with all countries affected by colonialism, you can have a break from the Injira and have a pizza and all restaurants serve pasta and spaghetti.
Fasil Gebil

The Camelot of Africa 
Fasils Baths 
There is history here whether British or Italian. The British came here on what was dubbed the ‘Abyssinian Expedition’  under the command of General Robert Nappier of the Bombay Army. They came for hostages who where of British Nationality. A sort of early Libyan embassy. But it would appear to have been a show of force when you read the account. They sent in total 13’000 British and Indian Soldiers 24’000 camp people and 40’000 animals even training elephants to be shipped from India to carry the heavy guns. Essentially Nappier made it overland across Ethiopia burned the capital to the ground at Magdala forced the emperor Tewrdos II to suicide and decimated his army and got the hostages back. Tewrdos II made the fatal mistake the Maddi in Sudan made against Kitchener. They both ordered the attack first against machine guns any chance of success against that is dead in the water. Once the job was done permission was granted for burning and looting, many treasures where taken, you can see some of those in the British Museum in London if you like. The crown of Tewrodos II was taken but returned by British King George the V ironically in a ceremony to Haile Selassie in the UK 1925. A union that would in time see Haile Selassie back in power in Ethiopia but not until the ousting of the Italians by the Allied forces in the second world war which then made way for him to return as leader. The British and the Ethiopians playing good tacticians for their own gain at the time.  
Its a spectacular place as a city perched on steep hillsides which was part of its defence as its hard to get to. The bus journey up from Addis passes Bahir Dar and Lake Tana and from there sweeps up through steep mountain roads and over mountain passes. 

We continued the tour heading to some more out the way castles and churches before heading into town for a pizza ! 

Gondarian women avoiding the rain 

The surrounding hills 

Digging around for more ruins 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Elephant the Land Cruiser and the Sausage Dog !

Burton ready to alight the vehicle 
The Ngare Ndare forest is a beautiful bit of natural forest nestled in-between Lewa, Borrana and under Mount Kenya offering a corridor for the Elephants, a way of moving from the plains to the higher mountain ground on Mount Kenya when things get a little dry on the lower plains. 
Moving through the bush to meet a team in the canyon requires driving over some pretty rough terrain, where any speed is not possible. Only four wheel drives, in the wet even they would not be enough. But imagine my surprise when passing a tight bend a giant Bull Elephant was astride the road. I instantly killed the engine as I saw him, he was about 30 metres away he reared startled by my arrival and then ran straight towards me flapping ears coming to a stop 10 metres short of the end of the bonnet flicking ears and trumpeting. This all happened as quick as a flash on the immediate stopping of the vehicle Burton the dog had sensed a vehicle stop. Which instantly suggests to him time to get out but as he moved upwards he found my hand leaving the handbrake to meet with him immediately flicking him into the footwell at high speed. Sadly should the only option be to drive anywhere fast it would have been hindered by flicking him the wrong way and that any peddle movement was now obstructed by a disgruntled sausage dog wedged between peddles and feet. The posing animal threat did not leave but was stood very upright at the front staring straight at me. Through the bush behind him I could see a baby and mother passing through and heading deeper into the trees which explained the Bulls tension. I have to admit I was pretty nervous as it kept trumpeting and making its presence more than known just off the end of the bonnet. I stayed silent and waited it out and seemed to ease after a while taking a few steps back. He would toss his head back in the way of the herd quite obviously monitoring their distance as they got further and further away from the potential threat of the large and very silent green object. After around thirty minutes he dropped back further and further occasionally trumpeting but always walking backwards keeping eyes on me. Then just vanished into the dense forest. One of the threats in this forest seems to be the density meaning that if you spot something like an Elephant or a Buffalo the chances are you are right up close to it. As it vanished I waited for a moment. Breathing a sigh of relief I fired up the engine pressed down on the clutch to which a high pitched yelp came back from Burton who was still stuck around the peddles. 
On arrival he was more than happy to alight and have a run, at least he was oblivious to the possibility of being a smashed to bits by angry elephant. My fear was that he was going to bark and cause a stampede, I gently held a packet of biscuits under the steering wheel occasionally scrunching them which kept him silent and transfixed while the threat through the windscreen remained. A sausage dog and an Elephant are really no match. 
That was one of two notable incidents I have had with Elephants in the forest. The other involved a very early start during a busy period where I wanted to get down early in the morning and pre rig the rock site in readiness for people coming. With the vehicles at a premium I hired a local motor bike. We tied the kit on and sped off into the forest but as we approached the bottom of a long hill there was a large Elephant crossing the road. As we neared the bike slowed and I braced anticipating a speedy u turn so we could head back to a safe distance. Instead we slowed and then stopped out popped the prop and he jumped off. He then in what I thought might be a brash move gathered stones and started throwing them at it. I was unsure about this and quickly alighted and headed back up the hill quickly. The Elephant at first seemed disgruntled but carried on crossing and quickly vanished into the forest. We carried on with no more issues. 

But I guess at the end of the day the Elephant has good reason to trumpet and charge as I am the very thing he needs to fear the most, humans. I may well be scared I get smashed to bits but his fear is far far greater and his need to protect the young is all the more important as its his whole species that are being smashed to bits.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Update on the latest goings on!

Kayaking on the Ewasso Nyro, Laikipia 
Well its been a while again since the last blog but have managed some time to get one done. We have been moving through the busy summer season here with groups coming through from the UK, Canada, Kenya and even Brooklyn New York along with numerous groups coming through on adventurous training packages. Its been good to busy in Kenya as the security issues have had their impact on tourism with many operators feeling the pinch of less visitors coming, although in the next few days we will get a visit from Obama which will hopefully send a message that Kenya is safe to come to even if it means that it will be nearly impossible to drive in Nairobi during his stay. Apparently the US president requires a clean run to the airport at any time from wherever he is, my experience of Nairobi traffic is that you cant get a clean run to anywhere and any journey will take far longer than you expect. There was also rumour of shutting the airspace which seems a bit over the top. But it will hopefully send a message as to Kenya’s safety for tourists. Certainly here in Laikipa you wouldn't feel anything other than safe with regard to the issues laid out by the media. 
There has also been the chance to get out for some reccies between the groups. We have been down to an area on the Laikipian plateau along the banks of the Ewasso Nyro river. We managed a good stretch of paddling along the river to check for its paddlability and also hippos which pose a threat in many parts of the river. 

Mellow paddling on the Ewasso Nyro
It was an extremely nice spot with nice camping along the shores and large amounts of wildlife passing through. We also took a look at some of the crags and granite domes which litter the Laikipian Plateau. Many of the features are either two blank to climb or have a peeling layer on them meaning you could pull large flakes off. But some offer great climbing with superb views.

Heavy traffic in the bush 
Dougie and I climbed one new line which as we did you could look out and see a large herd of Elephants and Giraffes passing by which makes for a pretty special venue. Its not until you leave Nanyuki and start heading deeper in Laikipia that you realise just how immense it. You can get a sense of what it must have been like when the original explorers first came before the roads, towns and cities came. Its also nice to see the wildlife roaming and rather than them being in a purpose made park they are wandering at free will. As we camped along the shores we had elephants crashing around on the shores eating and drinking. Defiantly made me wary about getting out the tent for a pee in the night.  
Burton experiences a motorbike
Burton the dog seems to be gaining strength and character as time goes by. He is very keen on being out with the groups which always seem to adopt him well, it always amuses me when the burly soldiers arrive and immediately go weak at the knees at the sight of a small dog. He did create an embarrassing situation at the rock site a few days ago. Not dissimilar to the youtube video of Fenton the dog chasing a herd of deer in Richmond Park. A Masai herder came through with around sixty goats which Burton promptly flew off and chased them over some distance. He does know not to do this now. 
I also had my yearly trip up the mountain with Pepponi school which is always nice with friend and teacher Mike Peck. We had good weather on the mountain and a nice group. Although in almost the same patter we had clear weather until we where nearly at the final camp on descent and the heavens opened. On the open heath land in poor weather its almost exactly the same feel as Scotland or the Lakes. 

The season keeps going with more groups and a very busy period coming up. We have over this season got groups running in Kenya, Tanzania, Bali and also Australia which is good. Next month I shall hopefully be in Ethiopia to have a look at areas where we would be able to run groups. For now though the rains have passed although never really hit as they are supposed to our Forest Camp received only a fraction of what it should so it already looking a bit dry in the forest and below its starting its burnt orange look down on the plains  of Borrana and Lewa and on into Samburu. 
Mr Peck enjoying the early morning mountain ambiance 

Dawn comes on the mountain 

If only Patagonia made umbrellas ! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Busy few days

A busy few days with courses passing through we had a little AT and followed up by a school which went very well. We managed to avoid the rain which in some places has been torrential at times but somehow we have always just been clear of it when it mattered. The difference it has made to the area has been tremendous with the forest feeling much more tropical than normal. We have a steady stream of smaller groups passing through prior to main season kicking off soon. 
I have also put together a few clips over the break for Rob at High Mountain Guides as a season changer as the Alps passes from the spring ski mountaineering season to the summer Alpine guiding season. That can be seen below. 

High Mountain Guides Summer 2015 from High Mountain Guides on Vimeo.

So an interesting result at home as the government takes a turn for the worse. I have to admit that was not the result I was expecting to see nor any reflection on my proxy vote. Thats the last two times I have voted the unexpected has occurred. It would seem that the country is very much divided and now risks some real separation issues. Will be probably far more interesting to see what happens now than in the run up to the election which seemed quite uninteresting looking from afar. I should think a historical moment in politics where one narrowly takes the house and all the opposing sides leaders quit by breakfast. Leaving the public wondering who is who is the opposition now then. I fear this may have been a disastrous choice. 
But on a softer note I have been given a dog through our security guard who it turned out was very young. Iona who I collected from a chamba just outside Ethi where our Forest Camp is. I took a look and decided she would make a good friend in the bush and took her back. The was only nine weeks and very skinny but had some beans in her and also a lot of ticks and fleas. But with some scrubbing and feeding she has perked up a lot. She had it fairly hectic going from the chamba to a busy camp with people all wanting to pick her up and out at the crag and canyon most days but she has kept pace and got stronger so she should turn out fine. 

Iona keen to get out the Land Cruiser