Sunday, October 18, 2009



Taking the shuttle bus from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania was a bit like ‘dripping water torture’ – driving along at snail pace, over and around the pot holed, painfully corrugated road hoping there was no oncoming traffic as we were blinded with the clouds of talcum powder dust (inside and outside the bus!) – the journey took 7.5 hours to cover 350km!!

Arriving in Tanzania, we had decided to spoil ourselves and take a camping safari into the northern Tanzanian parks so that we could take full advantage of watching for game and not having to concentrate for such long periods navigating the roads. The safari company (Shidolya – Tanzania’s only wholly locally owned and operated safari operator) were fantastic and we had the luxury of a driver and cook to provide us with 3 great meals each day. When we travelled through in 1995 we didn’t visit many national parks due to the high costs of doing so. The pricing system for foreigners (always in US$) has not improved - $50/person/24hr, $50/car/24hr, $50/transit between Serengeti/Ngorongoro and back again and then the most ridiculous $30/person/24hr to erect your own tent in a dusty public campsite with no running water and long drop toilets and this is before you add in the high cost of fuel and 4WD self drive and camp puts you back about $200 per person per day for 2 in a car! We paid a very reasonable $800/adult and $500/child for 5 days with vehicle, food, camping equipment, cook and professional driver and guide included and had a fantastic time.

We spent the first day in Tarangire National Park which was an amazing experience with huge herds of elephant and a magnificent baobab tree studded landscape – this place was a wonderful surprise for us thinking that the best was only to be found in the more famous parks to the north. The next day we then headed into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area climbing up to the rim of the famous crater passing through lush rainforest and appearing out of the mist at the top to look down into this amazing circular chasm way below with herds of animals dotted across the plains. In this conservation area, the Masai continue to live and graze their herds of cattle and goats which at this time of year make a drastic impact on the land with vast tracks of denuded grasslands waiting desperately for the rains to come. With such dry conditions at present, trucks deliver water twice a week to the Masai and then they herd their animals every day down and back up the crater face to water – a very necessary concession even though the Ngorongoro Crater is a National Park. Within the conservation area is Oldepai Gorge (named after the Oldepai plant and not named, as the rest of the world knows, Oldevai) where, the Leakeys and others, have famously found over the years much evidence to piece together the origins or mankind. The small, dusty museum was very well presented and was just amazing to imagine how anyone ever came across the area in the first place or ever imagined to start digging in the dust. It is wonderful to put such a global perspective on the origins of mankind – a good many people would do well to know that their origins are firmly black and African!

From here, we began the long, slow descent down onto the Serengeti plains. The sheer enormity and vastness of the place is just mind blowing with the dry, grassy plains extending as far as the eye can see - the Serengeti itself covers over 14,000 sqkm and is home to enormous volumes of wild animals and varied landscapes. The treeless plains are a result of volcanic explosions that millions of year ago covered the area in ash which, with time, resulted in a shallow hard rock covering so that grass flourishes but trees do not. At this time of year unfortunately, the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra are still further north feeding in the Masai Mara awaiting the rains to begin their migration back into the Serengeti. It was a shame not to see the plains covered with these amazing beasts but, the upside was, many sightings of lion as without plentiful feed on the plains they remain near to the waterways hungry and happy to eat anything that comes by. One morning, we were incredibly lucky to witness a lion kill. As a female left her pride (a male lion and 3 cubs) we followed her stalking along a river bed and after 2.5hrs of waiting she finally took out a Thompsons gazelle – it was a quick kill and not normally an animal she would pursue (being too small and very fast) but the lion are hungry and anything is fair game at present. We were very privileged to see countless other game (plenty of the big 5) and birdlife and Rob and I were most excited to see leopard which we had not sighted in the year we previously spent in Africa. The camping was great and with no fencing, we had a pride of 6 female lions come through the camp one evening. With a sudden rain shower, they momentarily took shelter under the boy’s tent awning so there was much calling out by the guides to ensure the boys didn’t suddenly decide to flee their tent!! The Serengetti more than lived up to our expectations – it is a truly beautiful and enigmatic place and the epitome of all that is good and right about Africa.

After a couple of amazing days, having to turn around and face the drive out, retracing our steps back to the Ngorongoro Crater filled us with little joy. We reached the crater rim at nightfall and there was much excitement with an elephant in the camp drinking from the water tank and many zebra grazing around the tents. The next morning, as we crawled slowly down into the crater, we watched in awe as the Masai too were wandering up and down by foot herding their animals to water. The Masai are a great people, very friendly and have fully bought into the tourism industry that is now on their doorstep – they take any opportunity to charge you to take their photograph and are always trying to sell you curios and pairs of their famous rubber sandals which are made from worn out car tyre tread! They are one of the few Tanzanian tribes who have held onto their traditions, their clothing, mostly don’t get their children to school and are fiercely proud and protective of their tribal traditions. The government for their part seem to respect this and there seems a happy balance between man and nature as they live together on the land.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a truly amazing ‘wonder of the world’ and, within her rim, lives an entire ecosystem with resident animals that never leave. During the intense dry season there are sometimes herds that will make the trip up from the Serengeti in search of food and water but they only remain until the rains fall and then always return to the plains. Descending down into the crater was like descending into a zoo with game everywhere, many lion roadside and hyena out enjoying the puddles from the morning rain. The whole driving safari experience was fantastic and enabled us to see an incredible amount of wild game in one of Africa’s most spectacular settings but, have to admit, we were a little over sitting on our bums for hours of the day and next time, would plan to take a walking safari instead (unfortunately this was not an option with the boys ages).

Returning to Arusha very dusty and filthy, we were very happy to have running water to bath in and have somewhere to wash some clothes. Arusha has grown enormously since we were last there and is the tourism centre for Tanzania with the streets littered with safari company vehicles and lots of muzungu. We enjoyed Arusha as a town but were very quickly over the pushy touts always in your face, trying to sell you safaris or curios or hotels or gemstones.....the boys were not impressed!! At this point, we were going to travel by bus down to Dar Es Salaam and then take the train across Tanzania and down into Zambia. However, allied with the thought of seven to ten days travel on our already sore bums, and with things not great in Cape Town with Rob’s Dad’s health, we decided instead to move up quicker and take the tortuous shuttle bus back up to Nairobi and fly from there down to Johannesburg. strange it has been, being back in ‘civilisation’ once again!!
Our journey through Kenya and Tanzania was an amazing experience for us all. Kenya was more about the culture and the people, Tanzania was more about the nature - Africa continues to intrigue us on all fronts and we have been thrilled that the boys have so embraced this amazing continent.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kenya cont...


As we headed further south towards Kitale, the road improved dramatically and we could finally reach excitable speeds of sometimes 70km/hour! We stopped having to weave all over the roads taking to the ditches on the side as a safer option rather than crunching down into the mega car wrecking potholes – a bad dirt road is far preferable to a half dead tar one!......Kenya’s roads have not improved since we were last here and distance to travel in this country has little bearing on how long it will take you to reach any one destination!

The land heading south suddenly changed to lush farmland with an entire landscape of maize fields covering all hills and valleys – this area is responsible for a large percentage of the maize production needed to feed the vast and rapidly increasing population of Kenya. Maize is the staple diet of most African nations and in Kenya, ugali (a hard porridge type meal made from ground up maize) is served with all meals – wealthier people will have it to accompany vegetables and meat, the poorer ones (and the majority) will have it as their main food maybe with some form of watery soup. With the drought this year, crops have been affected country wide and now there is famine in parts due to the failure of so many crops – it is heartbreaking to see the tall maize crops standing bearing no fruit.

Kitale is a small agricultural centre where we were to spend only a night as we headed further south but, we found a fantastic coffee shop in town with attached internet cafe (time for work emails and blogs) plus a wonderful lodge to stay out of town so we decided to stay longer – always a sucker for good coffee and a break from ugali and goat! Karibuni Lodge (and the coffee shop in town) is owned and operated by Theresa and Ibrahim, a great English/Kenyan couple who produce all their own food on their property. Theresa runs the coffee shop in town and Ibrahim is the chef serving up fantastic dinners and enormous ‘last you all day’ breakfasts.....on go the kg’s!!

Yesterday we met an amazing American woman, Carla and her band of helpers in the coffee shop who have set up an orphanage in the area to cater mainly for small babies. In the afternoon we went out for a visit and were all well impressed by the work that they are doing. Aid organisations are an industry in themselves in this part of the world and enormous amounts of funds are pumped in annually from all over the world most of which never reach the people, end up in corrupt officials pockets or pay for the lavish ‘expat’ lifestyles that a number of their employees lead. To visit an organisation where the owners live in with the children and where they do not draw a wage but rely on overseas donations to survive, was truly inspirational. James and Tom were enamoured with the little ones and spent their time giving loads of cuddles and playing with a ball whilst Sam found some bigger kids outside and spent his time playing football (soccer) with them. Once again the boys were very moved by the whole experience and especially so when they heard some of the tragic stories as to how the babies came to be in care. We enquired as to whether the orphanage will look for their babies to be adopted out but, as Carla pointed out, it is highly unlikely because the Kenyan government make it so difficult. Any adopting couple must reside in Kenya for a minimum of 12 months before adoption can be approved and then, they will be assigned a child of the government’s choice – no wonder in Kitale alone, there are some 30 children’s homes/projects/orphanages.


This morning Sam woke up unusually late for him and feeling very off, he didn’t want breakfast and by mid morning had a very high temperature. So we borrowed a local girl Elizabeth from the coffee shop and headed to the local hospital for a blood test to find that he has malaria. The hospital grounds were overrun with people and with the rain thumping down was chaos everywhere. We managed to pay a small bribe to have the blood test read quickly (this is Africa after all!!) and then after 3 hours finally saw a doctor who gave Sam an injection and then prescribed medication – all of this required the lovely Elizabeth to run around purchasing the injection for testing, then purchasing the injection for medication elsewhere in the hospital compound and then filling out the correct paperwork elsewhere with much sitting around on benches outside with the other hundreds of people waiting for medical care. The government do not provide free medical care for the people and there were many patients there who had been waiting for days unable to pay and as Elizabeth pointed out many of them often die in the waiting areas. Patients often run away from the hospital as they cannot pay and Carla relayed the tragic story of a baby that died in front of her whilst she had one of her babies in because the oxygen bottle ran out of air and they did not have another one available – at this point there were 3 babies sharing the same tube as it was handed between each to keep them going. Life is a battle of the strongest in this world and wicked to think of how little it would take to even give many a basic quality of life.


Thankfully we got onto the malaria quickly and after a couple of days of rest for Sam headed to Kakamega Forest further south which is a left over piece of forest that was once attached to the Congolian rainforests. The Brits cleared vast tracks of this forest many years ago to plant sugar cane and there is constant pressure from surrounding farmers to have their stock graze in the more open areas - it is impressive that this small oasis still remains standing today. We stayed in some very wobbly and ramshackle elevated rooms in the forest with black and white colobus monkeys swinging and fighting loudly in the trees around us. Rob, James and Tom took a guided walk hunting for birds and big trees plus the many troupes of colobus and sykes moneys that reside in the trees and were very impressed with the guides’ botanical knowledge and pleased that he knew where he was going through the maze of tracks deep in the forest.

From Kakamega we then headed further south through the chaotic city of Kissumu on Lake Victoria which is reeling from the after effects of recent flooding (the rain has still not touched the northern or eastern areas) and back up into the hills around Kericho which is a tea plantation area. Kenya is the worlds 3rd largest tea producing nation and the fields were spectacular with beautifully clipped crops of tea which is picked every 17 days so always looks so pristine and immaculate. Tea farming has gone the way of much agriculture these days and is all owned by big foreign and local companies but at least you can purchase the delicious local tea and not all for the export market. We had trouble finding accommodation so ended up in the very old and austere ‘Tea Hotel’ which, in it’s British heyday, must have been quite the place to be – a magnificent old building with all the old crockery, linen and rooms looking very tired and shabby. We politely refused to pay the exorbitant US$ foreigner room rate and with tourism so slow at the moment managed to get resident Kenyan rates. Everywhere in Kenya there is one rate for residents and another for foreigners which of course are vastly different – Kenya is not a cheap holiday destination and you are often paying over the top prices and left wondering what they are doing with these extra funds which don’t seem to be going back into the facilities or infrastructure you are supposedly helping fund.

From Kericho we headed for the rural centre of Nakuru and delivered the landy back to Ivan who has ‘Arid Adventures’ - it was great to have our own vehicle the past couple of weeks (and especially so a landrover to make Rob feel well at home!) and would not have enjoyed it so much struggling around on matatus (crazy overcrowded combi van transport) with the boys and all our clobber. In Nakuru we again found a fantastic new coffee shop, ‘Guava Cafe’ which is owned and operated by a Kenyan/Australian couple serving the best coffee we had tasted in a long while (even better than Kitale!!). Through this great little establishment we then found an amazing orphanage – the East African Mission Orphanage (EAMO) that has been operating for 12 years. EAMO was set up by a very inspirational and amazing Australian couple who, disillusioned with the consumerist world that they lived in, sold up their life in Australia and poured all their money into the venture. Ralph and May now have 160 children in their care ranging from babies up to 18yr olds, have a primary school set up (future plans for a secondary school and skills training centre), grow acres of maize, wheat, vegetable and fruit trees to feed all the kids and many staff and have an active sponsorship programme running to keep them funded. Undertaking this kind of project in Kenya is not for the faint hearted and to give your life as these guys have done is just mind blowing – the children are a credit to them both - well behaved and so obviously happy with their lives living in a warm, safe, healthy and caring ‘home’. If you are interested in seeing the work these people are doing check out their website


So having lost the luxury of our own vehicle we headed to Nairobi by bus and then took a matatu out to Karen Campsight which is situated in the very luxurious and stately suburb of Karen (named after the famous Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame) outside of Nairobi. After muscling our way through the chaos of the matatu stands and finding the right vehicle, the boys were shoved well into the back of the van with others and Rob and I sat to the front with the backpacks stashed over the top of us. There was a large flat screen TV in front blasting out very loud American/Kenyan rap music with accompanying videos and with this, we took off down town and out through Kibera, Africa’s largest township. It felt a little like we were on a movie set as we wound our way through such abject poverty but also an area of life, vitality and communities all melted together. The matatu stopped and started as more bodies were squeezed on and off, with much calling out and touting for business by the ticket collector who jumped on and off as the vehicle moved through the maze of people, animals and dirt tracks. At the other end we were suddenly spat out into lush forest and then into the very calm, extremely wealthy and tranquil Karen with immense hedged properties, miles of razor wire and electric fences and guards at gates – the safe haven for whites and wealthy Kenyans a million miles from the slums of Kibera.

It has been an amazing journey for the boys to see that Africa is not just about wild animals and spectacular scenery, that in many parts of Africa there is a world of poverty and tragic stories, of corruption and lack of basic human rights. For them to be exposed to the harsh realities of life outside of their own safe havens has been, we think, an invaluable experience and even more important has been their meeting of everyday people who are prepared to give so much to better the lives of others.

Monday, September 21, 2009


September 2009

As to be expected, Rob got caught up with work in Dubai and ended up there for 10 days which still was not enough to quell the riots and make up for 5 months of absence! So we decided the best way to keep everyone happy (well work that is!) was to fly back to Dubai for a few days and then head down to Nairobi from there. The last few days at Eden Island were crazy and hectic as we packed up Muneera. We brought 200kg of unaccompanied baggage with us through to Dubai made up mostly of the boy’s library of books, wet weather gear, snorkelling /dive gear, clothes etc whilst all the linen, cooking gear, charts, pilot books, tool kits etc were left on board so that she is ready to cruise. It was a very bizarre feeling leaving her behind, and, have to admit, she is probably in the best condition she has ever been in having been put through her paces and all engine design problems now sorted out. We have now left her in the care of a local skipper who works on a charter boat in the marina and he will keep an eye on her, turn over the engines and charge up batteries each week until she sells......... or we come back and sail her away!

Our week in Dubai turned into 10 days of hectic catch ups with lots of friends, 2 overnights in Abu Dhabi with the Browns (not long enough!!) and as usual felt like we had never been away! Rob finally managed to wind up work, the boys and I squeezed in a few extra play dates by taking advantage of the lovely Astrid and inviting all and sundry to her house!! and then we were out and headed to Nairobi.

Whilst we were in the Seychelles and rapidly changing travel plans, as we are often accustomed to do!!, Kenya was suddenly on the agenda and so now, was a need to find long lost friends that we had stayed with 14 years earlier. The year that Rob and I spent travelling through Africa was dogged by many a break down (landrovers are a little like boats with their constant need for attention and upkeep!) and after coming down out of the extremely rough north from Lake Turkana, we needed to find a place to stop and do some gearbox repairs. Having decided that we were going no further without some plan in place, a landy came over the hill in a cloud of dust bearing Peter who ran a donkey safari business up into the Samburu area. He and his wife Rosalie kindly put us up for the night and then sent us on our way the next morning with a letter of introduction to their friends, the Perrotts, at ‘Bobong Camp’ further south by a good few more hours of body jarring dirt roads. We ended up staying with these guys for a good week (maybe it was more we can’t remember!) and had the most wonderful time exploring their cattle ranch, seeing plenty of game and having their pet cheetah sleep with us each night in our room. So, having no email address for them and having lost snail mail contact a number of years ago, thankfully I found them through the ever useful internet and they organised for us to be collected at the airport.

As we had arrived during morning peak hour traffic, we were very quickly on the back routes through Nairobi and soon remembering well the infamous Kenyan potholes and bone jarring roads! A few hours later, and we arrived hot and dusty at ‘Bobong Camp’ on Ol Maisor Ranch, shocked by how dry it all was – Kenya is currently gripped by a shocking drought and its resultant famine conditions in some parts. It was fantastic to see John and Amanda again after so many years and we were soon ensconced in their wonderful warmth and hospitality amongst their 6 dogs, a couple of cats and the 2 crazy mongoose but sadly no cheetahs. John and Amanda live atop an escarpment overlooking the vast acacia filled plains north of the tiny village of Rumuruti in the Laikipia region of Kenya. It is amazing country that is home to the mostly Samburu people and a smattering of ‘white Kenyan’ ranchers living peaceably together amongst ample game, cattle, goats and camels. In the years since we have been there, John and Amanda have set up a very successful camel safari business which does tailored journeys anywhere through the north of Kenya as far up as Lake Turkana. They also have a campsite and bandas (traditional African, round, thatched roof huts) that they use for different groups including school groups that come out from the UK and Canada to do volunteer work at the local school on their property.

The boys were enthralled with life on the ranch – driving down to check the camels, goats and cattle in the bomas (temporary fenced in enclosures typically made from the thorny branches of acacia) each day gave them their first glimpse of life for Africans living in mud/tin huts, dusty and grubby little kids running about and Amanda dishing out various remedies from the back of the ute/pickup to those who needed it. The herdsmen and their families live in these temporary dwellings with some of their children perhaps going to school whilst the rest are out working at a very young age helping look after livestock and fetching water from far away. Walking long distances is part of life for these people and we are always amazed to find people out in the middle of nowhere crossing from one place to another. Due to the drought (last rains were over 10 months ago) there is very little feed left on the property and the herdsmen are having to roam the animals further to find feed. Salt is regularly fed to the animals which is lacking in their diets, the cattle look painfully thin and water is now carted every day up from the river for the herders and their families plus for filling of the tanks at the main house. Whilst we were there a baby camel had to be brought home to be hand fed after its mother rejected it and would not feed it. By the time we found him he was very weak and the boys named him ‘Inshallah’ for good luck and spent a lot of time feeding and cuddling him, willing him to good health - sadly his luck did not last and he died the day after we left.....nature can be cruel.

The property is mostly unfenced and is also home to a variety of game such as giraffe, elephant, zebra, warthogs, impala, dickdick, lion (which we didn’t get to see) etc and also many and varied bird species. We had a picnic one afternoon by the river and had the most wonderful experience of getting up very close to a huge and very old male elephant – thankfully we were downwind of him and was just amazing to be so close and on foot. We spent another interesting day at a meeting held on a neighbouring ranch a couple of hours drive away to address the issue of the British Army’s presence in the region. For many years the British Army have been running training programmes for their troupes in Kenya and now with so much activity for them in countries such as Afghanistan, Northern Kenya has become an even more important training base for them due to its similarity in harsh environment and climate. To do this though requires the cooperation of ranches in the region and many training operations take place on these properties which provide employment and money to local communities. The meeting was called due to concerns of noise and clashing with tourism which is an important part of the economy all over Kenya – it was very interesting to listen in to the discussions and the army were very responsive and keen to keep the peace with all involved. Being there in the shearing shed with 3 light aircraft parked on the airstrip, a number of 4WD parked to the side and a great spread for lunch provided on the skirting table made me feel very at home! After 5 fabulous days we picked up a rental landrover and said our goodbyes amidst promises of not losing contact again - John and Amanda now have family in Perth so there will be no excuse not to do so again!


Heading further north we called into a neighbouring property, ‘Mugi’, a private nature conservancy that is well known for its population of rhinos. We picked up a great guide at the gate and then headed in for a game drive where we spotted the aggressive and grumpy black rhinos and 2 of the very rare white rhinos. We came across a giraffe that was orphaned and then released to the wild who was very interested in sniffing and nudging the boys sitting atop the landy roof and they were amazed at how stinky his breath was! There were many buffalo, hartebeest, gemsbock, zebra and warthogs but unfortunately we did not find the lion as they had moved to an inaccessible part of the reserve – they have armed rangers in the reserve that track the animals on foot. We also had an unexpected, but lovely meet up with Rosalie whom had so kindly put us up when we had hailed down her husband Peter all those years ago. Sadly Peter died 3 years ago and so she has now moved down further south and works at ‘Mugi’.

From here we headed west and over the top of Lake Baringo to stay at Roberts Camp. This camp offers camping, bandas, safari tents and gorgeous cottages that used to be the family holiday pads of the Roberts family many years ago. The lake level was very low due to the drought and filled with lots of hippos who liked to wonder around the camp site at night looking for food. The birdlife was fantastic and we spent a morning with a local ornithological guide who took us on a nature walk behind the lake which was very interesting but very hot and dry. We had to spend a couple of nights here to let James recover from a rotten stomach which he then passed on to Tom the following day as we bounced our way about 8 hours drive to the north.....poor thing!!


Our drive north was through a spectacular mix of landscapes, sandy river beds, escarpments, mountains and acacia plains where we got a little lost and did not reach our planned destination. So after 8 hours, feeling very dusty and dishevelled, we pulled into a small village, found some accommodation and the boys had their first experience of ‘roughing’ it in Africa!! – 2 bodies each to a small wooden bed with grass mat for mattress, very hot with no air below mozzie nets and a fairly appalling long drop toilet! They did well, did not complain and even managed to eat the pretty dubious fare in a local eatery. We arose early the next morning and got going preferring to enjoy some breakfast and toileting by a relatively clean river! The drive out of the area was amazing as we wound along the beautiful Muren River which winds its way north finally dropping into Lake Turkana. The river banks were lush with mango trees, maize, banana palms and the many small communities that rely on its life giving water.


We then dropped off the edge of Kenya, off and out of communication with the rest of the world and into the spectacular Mbara Valley, 1800m above sea level nestled below the majestic Mt Mtelo. These mountains lie to the north of Marich Pass in Pokot country and look over the vast plains that head up north to Lake Turkana. The track up into the valley was painfully slow and steep and after an hour of climbing up we found the ‘Mtelo View Point Bandas and Camp Site’ in Mbara Village. John and his wife Angela are an amazing local Pokot couple who have set up the accommodation on their small land holding with stunning views of the mountains. They have 5 great bandas that stay amazingly cool in the heat of the day and warm at night with the cool mountain air plus ample space for camping. They can arrange guides for the numerous amazing hiking trails up into the mountains and Angela provides very delicious meals even if the meat was somewhat chewy! Alongside this business they have also facilitated numerous community aid projects with the help of overseas donors. A water project set up a couple of years ago by an English guy who hiked into the valley one day during his travels, now provides pure, clean fresh mountain water from Mt Mtelo with a series of tap points dotted through the valley. After hiking halfway to the ‘pass’, we were blown away at the logistics of having done so – the mountain is high up via a series of very steep winding paths through maize fields over which were hand carried, the many km’s of PVC pipe and holder tanks. Having access to clean water is a god send in Africa where water quality is always such an issue. New schools have been built (the government has all but forgotten about this lost valley) thanks to donors from Holland and another young English guy has been involved in setting up a nursery school which is now sitting half built having run out of funds. When you find out that it will only take another $1000 to finish building and getting the school up and running you realise just how far foreign currency goes in this part of the world. The boys were like celebrities in the valley and at times were mobbed by many children – these people have seen a few ‘mzungu’s’ (foreign white fellas) over the past few years but never have there been mzungu children in the valley so there was great excitement all round. On our first afternoon there we walked down to the river where there were swathes of people panning for gold – there is gold in these parts but only in the river sand found directly above the bedrock. There was a large area with massive holes dug down into the earth with the men bringing the soil up and then the women panning it through in the water – they do this for hours with very small returns of tiny specks of gold but all helps in feeding families. There was a very happy vibe and buzz down on the river bank with many brewing up tea for the workers and lots of kids running around between the holes – Africa may be poor but these people always have a smile on their face and always grateful for any distraction from the tedium of their everyday life.

The morning that we visited the local primary school was chaos, all classes came to a standstill and the boys then spent a lesson in each of their respective grades much to the delight of the students and teachers. Education is still far behind in this part of the world and in Tom’s class there were kids as old as 16yrs and 18yr olds in the top grade. When they do graduate from primary school there is no secondary school in the area, so, for those few whose parents can afford it, they will head down the mountain to boarding school. There is one teacher and one room per grade with approx 60 students in each sitting 3 to a bench. There is a large blackboard on the wall but no other teacher resources. This school is lucky in that it has a small library with books in it but it was somewhat disconcerting to see that the schools only reading scheme was bible based stories obviously donated by the church. The staffroom was a room furnished with table and chairs where all teachers sat to prepare lessons (mmmm a little different to what our teachers expect as basic!) and the head teacher had the luxury of his own small room. Teachers are seriously under paid (they are generally housed in very small huts attached to the school) in Kenya and often go on strike in their quest for more, much needed pay so schools can often be closed for days on end. Because the government doesn’t really support these outlying communities (they are Pokot so why would they?!) only a few teacher wages are provided and the rest must be raised by the community. The day we arrived most of the younger years were sent home to fetch unpaid fees for the first month and, if it was not paid, they would not be able to return – the school asks for Ksh100 per approx AED5 or Aus$1.50 per month and a lot of those children will not be back for some time until their families find this sum. Others will not be back at various times because there will be sick parents to look after or herding of animals on the mountain or baby brothers and sisters to take care of - schooling life is a very different affair for children and teachers in many parts of Africa and should be experienced by those swathes of whinging parents and teachers in the west complaining about lack of facilities and too big class sizes for their darlings......perspectives!!

We checked out the boarding house (most primary schools in Kenya have one) which is for the students who live too far up the mountains to be able to walk up and down each day. The buildings (1 for boys and 1 for girls) were a long bunk filled shed with the students keeping their few possessions in a small tin trunk on the floor and a thin mattress and rug if their family could afford it – a lot of the beds had only a reed mat. The boarders are given their meals outside under the trees and spend their weekends mopping the school room floors and doing their clothes washing in the river below. On Sundays the whole community goes to church for most of the day – it is as much about a social gathering as for spiritual nurturing and to this, everyone wears their Sunday best – most boarding students only have 1 set of ‘decent’ clothes and this is their school uniform.

We spent a lot of time talking with John about life in the valley and were so inspired by his vision for his people. He is working hard to make a successful business for his family but at the same time working tirelessly to find funds and donors for the various projects in the area to improve the quality of living for the whole community. He and Angela have 4 delightful children and also care for 1 other brother and 2 of Angela’s sisters in their tiny home plus support his parents who live up the hill. We have a lot to relearn in the west about a sense of community and responsibility to our families – where have we gone wrong when we have more than enough money and space in our lives to care for our extended families but fail to do so due to a perceived disruption and inconvenience to our own lives?

After 4 days of wonderful clear air, hiking, healthy and very basic (by western standards at no running water, no electricity, long drop toilets and a luxurious, but very bracing cold water shower!!) living in the mountains we said our farewells and retraced our route back down the hectic mountain track to the main drag. As we descended, we discussed at length with the boys ways in which we could all make a difference in a place like Mbara and realized just how little we would have to do to make such a massive difference in such a community. Our journey to the ‘top of the world’ was a wonderful education for us all and we are now all feeling inspired to try and make a difference to that little piece of paradise in the future.