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.

1 comment:

  1. sounds very touching!
    What an experience for the boys.