Monday, July 14, 2014

Expedition into Ol Pejeta

A Lion lazing in the sun as the heat builds 
 I've been within the Ol Pejeta conservancy over the last couple of days with the Canadian and American team with a packed itinerary. We got prepared packing up the gear and loading the Land Cruiser the classic green go anywhere safari vehicle. We loaded up with tents, cooking gear and food aiming for a wild camp on the banks of the  Ewaso Nyiro river.
Camping on the banks of the river there are Elephants further down the bank on the bend
 The team where also due to carry out a bike safari so the logical thing was to leave our camp on bikes heading round the perimeter fence through the community land to the main Rongai gate to the Ol Pejeta conservancy. In through the gate and off round the bike loop, the previous days rain made for a few boggy sections but out on the open plains its was no problem. This loop passed a variety of animals Buffalo, Rhino, Warthogs and lots of Zebra and Impala bringing us round to Morrani’s cafe. We left the bikes and headed through the conservancy to the research base to check in and have a talk with Joshua about the overall picture and approach Ol Pejeta takes on conservation and its ethos.
Buffalo on Zebra plains 
 We wound down after that through the Acacia tree’s to the campsite to set up on the Ewaso Nyrio river bank at Owesso camp. A stunning spot and pretty much the African impression. As we arrived a herd of Elephants arrived to eat the succulents that run along the edge of the river. With camp set we had time for a game drive taking a drive through we saw numerous animals before returning to cook. Spag bowl prepared and while eating a cracking noise in the dark and large splash almost had me throw my dinner all over me. Just on the opposite bank to the tent was an obvious Hippo run into the river, it had slithered into the water and then silently swam right by us and off down the river. Hippos will use the water ways as there way to get from a to b due to the amount of predators out at night and can move from grazing grounds without being detected. I had quietly had a walk down the river bank to look for obvious runs but our side was a steep bank. Hippo’s can be very dangerous but its more a question of what your actions are to get them nervous, getting between them and the water, or between them and there young will cause, the main reason they are considered dangerous is because if they attack its almost a certainty they will kill. It is rare for these animals to suddenly kill though there needs to be a reason for them to attack and its usually through ignorance or a bad decision on the part of the human which results in an incident. 
Crossing the Ewaso Nyrio river en route to the camp 
An extremely early start at around five am to start the conservation in action day around the conservancy. Although bleary eyed and a little hungry due to a baboon incident the previous afternoon which involved some breakfast items migrating the morning was to have quite a kick start in store which would soon have us wide awake. I drove up to the research station to collect Jimmy who was joining us for the day with the plan of heading direct to the Chimp sanctuary but as we drove closer to the sanctuary Jimmy mentioned that there was a pride of Lions not far from there spotted by a colleague, we quickly headed to the area and soon found a pride 14 strong by the road. A spectacular sight furious snapping of pictures and then the action began with ring side seats. It had become obvious the older Lions had seen something in the bush across the road. The main Lion suddenly got up from sitting and with a low haunched back started to creep towards the track in front of the truck and with perfect precision two other older Lions got up and rushed along the side of the truck and darted into the bush disappearing. The main Lion now in front of the truck moved into the grassy area below us. I couldn't see what they where looking for and then bang the two flanking Lions launched out the bush with a warthog just ahead of them squealing and sprinting its way into the path of the main Lion who exploded into action and within seconds paws where on it then jaws and after some fairly shrill noises from the doomed Pumba silence fell. A perfect ambush. All so coordinated a rehearsed. Then the pride where on it and it was a the scene we have all seen on the Beeb of bloody heads coming up from a mass of Lions feeding on a kill. And that was that breakfast efficiently served at 7am! 
Going in for the kill 

The large pride all looking at breakfast

Poko one of the rescue chimps
Off we went now sufficiently awake to the Chimps sanctuary. This lies as a small reserve within the conservancies 90’000 acres. A sanctuary for chimps who have been rescued from throughout the region. Often neglected and abused which adds to their rather shocking aggression towards humans and each other, in fact almost as soon as I arrived I got the camera out to take a shot of a friendlier looking one who rolled his mouth in way that made me think ‘surely he’s not’, and he did and spat a massive blob at me thankfully missing my face but hitting my shoulder. As we gazed around the two caged areas they where in before they where let out it was a fairly eye opening scene. The noise they made and aggression they showed alarmed me. I have never seen banging and screaming like that from animals also ones you see your own species characteristics in so noticeably. Their aggression though is not without reason. If we take Poko who was used for amusement in a petrol station in Bujambure, Barundi as an example. For nine years he was hung in a cage above a petrol forecourt to attract custom. The cage was so small he could only stand and as a result walks bolt upright as it affected his back. It was common practice as described in Tim Butchers book Blood river that in the Congo it was good luck to have a Chimp in a cage hanging from a shop. A pretty sad story for these Chimps but good to see the great work being done by the conservancy to make them a good home. 
From here we had a long game drive making our way to the western side of the conservancy at Namok where the cattle ranch lies. We pretty much saw everything on that drive round, Lions lazing in the sun, Hyena, Elephant, Giraffe, Jackals and Rhino. 
We met Giles at the live stock office who ran through the balance of Ol Pejetas wildlife ethos. Essentially it boils downy to creating a balance between having a working cattle ranch and wild animals often associated with eating the cattle such as Lions. The Ol Pejeta beef is well known and sold all over. There conservation ethos is cutting edge and should be taken on by the national parks under the Kenya Wildlife service. Introducing things like steel fenced but moveable ‘boma’s’ to protect the cattle through the night from Lion attack. Moving those boma’s on a regular basis leaves the area naturally fertilised and the ground broken up so that better grasses can grow through in the rains leading to better grazing grass for the wild animals. By having a strong head of cattle and strong wild animal population they are able to protect the park for hard times, for example we have troubles with security in the country but if the tourists stop coming the park can lean on the cattle more for income through the hard times. We had a look at a tick spray station and also a Boma while heading back to see Baraka. 
Baraka is a Southern Black Rhino but blind and seems very comfortable around people as you can get up close to him. The park has four Northern White Rhino’s of which there are only seven left on the planet sadly for them they don’t have long left before they are all gone. 
One of the large herds of cattle on the conservancy 

Giles explaining the livestock management program 
 After that we where pretty bushed and headed back to strike camp and head back round to our permanent camp. A great experience for all and plenty learned about managing a conservation area. Sadly humans over the years have destroyed the habitats of these animals, hunted them into extinction, put them into Space or tea bag adverts so these conservation areas are vital if we are to keep these animals for future generations to see them in real life. Although I have scepticism about charity in Africa I think if directed towards wild life programs or anti poaching missions I think its a very good thing, so long as that is where it ends up. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Canadians in Ethi

Into the water in the blue pool canyon 

Team Canada not so dry 
A nice few days up at Ethi with a small group who have come from Canada for an 18 day trip. They arrived in Ethi to settle in with an orientation day around Ethi and the surrounding area. We had a tour round looking at a the Uhru flower farm which was pretty interesting and will make a separate blog post coming up. Flower farms are a large part of the economy in this area as it makes for ideal growing environment. After that we had a look at a bio gas project in one of the local chamba’s above the Ngare Ndare forest. This is a sustainable way of cooking, essentially in the garden there is a huge thick vinyl sack, kind of like a giant water bladder people have in their running and biking rucksacks. At one end there is an open funnel which they put in the cow poo in from the cattle shed and then this biodegrades in the sack creating methane gas which comes out via a hosepipe to the cooker in the kitchen. It works extremely well and reduces some of the issues in the area such as deforestation, the need for charcoal which is meant to be illegal however its everywhere. Its also a way of reducing health issues which come from cooking on fires inside the home which will be poorly ventilated creating respiratory issues for many Kenyans this ladies plot was a good example of a working small holding and may require a video in the future, it was an example which many in the west could take a lot from in terms of living in a way which supports yourself growing and keeping enough cattle to support your needs and no more. From there we had a look at a tree nursery within another chamba’s plot. They where using trees to sell and re plant within the local forest. Their are many initiatives alive and kicking in Kenya to live in a sustainable way which produces the often overlooked in Africa solutions for the future. 
We also had a good day in the forest the next day with a trip down the canyon completing all but the highest jump which is not appropriate for many school aged people. Then a walk out and trip to the tea shop in the local village for an authentic brew in a local cafe. We finished the day with a trip to the crag and a few climbs before heading home to Ethi. We also had a trip round the canopy walk way with Daniel or Legai (people here will have two names one westernised name and a tribal one in this case Kikuyu name)
Legai the ranger for the forest 
Legai is in with us on a regular basis as the Ngare Ndare ranger and gives a great walk in describing the wild life, tree types and different types of animals in the area and is a bird expert and loves to be asked about these things. I especially liked his description to me when I first met him regarding what might happen if we met a buffalo on the way ‘Mr Dan if they come for you, you will sir for certainties be fallen down unless they are choosings me’ !  
The team are still with us but heading to the local school with Maina for some desk building and I shall head back to base and see what the next line up is. 

Also something I noticed on the BBC’s front page was there had been another attack on the coast nearly 800 miles away but the top line stated that Northern Kenya was a no go zone for tourists. This is untrue all these issues are happening in the same place well north of Mombassa near the Somali border, Tana river and Garissa area which has always had these tribal issues. Although Al Shabab claim these attacks are theirs they are not all theirs and are often due to tribal issues and cattle rustling issues rather Islamist extremists. They are targeting Kenya due to the work they are doing in Somalia, something we in the UK have experience of, Ireland, Afganistan and Iraq have all come back to us with bombs on buses and tubes in the London bombings, nail bombs in Soho with the IRA etc. Its a side effect of going into other peoples countries which will ultimately create a resentment which will come back to haunt you. As this happened and people may worry in Canada at the same time there where multiple shootings in downtown Toronto, in fact in North America I would think gun crime is far more widespread than in Kenya. Its a matter of perspective and the perspective here in Laikipia (Northern Kenya) is that people are peacefully going about their business and many ‘Mzungus’ (whites) are cutting about going on safaris and climbing the mountain, just think carefully though if your planning a yachting excursion through the Somali basin….. 

Olivia enjoying the water 

More AT

Some abseil training underway at the camp 
A great few days with some Adventure Training lots going on throughout RVA at the moment. We are in the dead of winter at the moment with our position on the equator although it feels remarkably similar to summer to me. A team from Brunie has just returned from a good trip on the mountain getting all but one on the summit of Lenana with the help of our regular guide Bernard via the Timau route. This was a Duke of Edinburgh trip where the group cooked and looked after themselves in the mountains. We also have a group from Taiwan who are down in Arusha, Tanzania. They are on a more service orientated trip and will be down there for a while. Arusha is often the staging post for Kilimanjaro and is a nice place, the main thing I remember from some years ago now was a ‘duka’ where you could buy a brown paper bag from a wooden shack full of meat which after a trip up Killi was the tastiest bag of meat I had ever had and spent from there to Lake Manyara chewing the gristle, much to the disgust of the vegetarian teacher accompanying the group.

Into the blue pools 
The adventure training which has just passed was a great course where we where able to build on delivering the learning and transferable skills required. We did this at the canyon and climbing site and also on the variety of things we have at the Ol Pejeta camp. A fit bunch who would run into the canyon and made me concerned that should we be attacked by Elephants I might be the one straggling off the back of the herd that always gets it in nature programmes but I managed to keep pace and stay at the front, although there where periodic waits to collect the armed ranger who comes with us and was finding the abrupt change of pace from the norm a little hard to cope with. The guys would take this as a quick fag break while he regained himself and then set off again at warp speed! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

AT, Packing it in......

A lower into one of the shallower pools in the canyon 
Great three days of AT with a group, very keen enthusiastic and happy to be here. Based at the new camp we have which is much nearer the Ngare Ndare venues where our beds for the nights they where here and its really coming together up there a great venue. We packed it in with a keen bunch starting off with climbing and then some abseils looking through various things along the way. A full canyon session involving jumps, abseils, lowers, rescues etc and then finished off with the full mt Kenya mountain bike loop. The new ‘Forest Camp’ sits just by the entry gates to the forest and has some stunning views from the tents out to the mountain and forests below. The area we wanted the tents is a pretty steep hillside among the trees and so built platforms in cut to the hill and jutting out giving the views and some seclusion. From here its possible to just bike straight into the venues cutting the need for transport, the way in easy the way out a steep pull to earn the tea and coffee waiting at the top. 
Other groups have been in one large school team from Brunei who are in for various things but at the moment are up on the mountain, I was due to head up with them but we have a busy week ahead with some last minute AT groups coming through. Bike safari’s have also been underway with private bookings. The season is not over yet and so the show goes on. People are coming to Kenya although the travel advisories have had an effect on the coast and also relations between the UK and Kenya strained. We also have a team from Taiwan who are doing a course with us in Tanzania where we have a place in Arusha that we can use with groups, this is a mainly serviced based trip. Its a nice area having been there in the past, its the usual stop over for those coming to climb Killi and access some of the areas famous parks, Ngoro goro crater, Lake Manyara and the Serngeti. 

I recently saw the picture below which could make for a new advert for the bike safari trips………

A sketch image from the web could be a good bike safari add ! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Adventure Training courses

Mountain Biking in the Mount Kenya Forest 
A busy few days on various things around Laikipia a variety of groups have been in. Some on Adventure Training which I have mainly been focussed on over the last week. Some large numbers passing through this time with around 200 on the courses. This has been up at the climbing site and also in the forest Canyon. Also we have a MIAS mountain bike course with many passing and gaining their mountain bike leader qualification. The new canyon which we found on the staff training week a little while ago has been getting used lots, its meant we can cut down on the driving a little instead walking between the venues. We did have an interesting moment leaving the crag on the last day in the vans. As we passed through the forest we came across an Elephant herd passing on a little further we came across the large bull who’s head was in a bush but as soon as he clocked the fact we where watching and there he launched out of the bush charging the bus. It would be a terrifying thing to be on foot and not have the protection of the bus to rely on. He is a huge bull which if often in the forest and gets fairly grumpy when vehicles pass. 
Still more groups to go in this the busiest period of the year. We have a school coming in from Brunie this weekend who are regulars and I shall be heading up the mountain with them as they do a DofE style trip on the hill. We shall be taking a different line this time coming in from Timau which should be interesting to see the other side. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Under an African Sky : Photo's

The African sky is one of the most impressive features of this continent they are huge going on as far as the eye can see. Infact I have just found out that the view from the summit of Mount Kenya which stretches to Killimanjaro is the second longest line of sight on earth. Here are a few of those skies.

Afternoon clouds rolling in over Ol Pejeta conservancy just outside Nanyuki taken from the land cruiser passing through Barrakka while heading to the office to check up on emails and admin.

Clouds forming over Ethi and Timau in the late afternoon while returning from an Adventure Training course with the British.
Sunrise on Mount Kenya looking out over the rugged almost Dolomitic peaks which lie around the main summits en route to the top with the Pepponi School from Nairobi
Big country heading back with ‘Facebook’ the boda boda driver to camp after a trip to town to get supplies and prepare for the next group.

First light from the mountain as the sun comes through in bursting colours one of the biggest treats in the high mountains and enjoyed by the Pepponi school ascent.
Sunset over the Ol Pejeta conservancy, the true African features, Acacia tress and a giant blood red sun going down. Watched from the tent while typing
A lone worker in the wheat fields which lie below Mount Kenya seen on the ISK mountain bike multi day expedition.
A reccie in the Old Pejata conservancy with Joyce looking at mountain bike routes, big skies sum up the scenery in Africa large and long views where you often begin to see the earths curvature. 

Looking for another canyon site with the views out to Leywa downs, Mathews Range and Boranna in Northern Kenya. Its a big place with much to do………….

Not the sky but just like this one of a woman making here way over to Wasini Island off the southern coast of Kenya from the taxi boat from the mainland, tropical waters and the colours of the people on the coast are something special.