Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mount Kenya Climbing Expedition

Climbing 4900m is easier than running in a cross country or marathon. Well, that’s my opinion after getting to the third highest peak of the highest mountain in Kenya. Mount Kenya it is. This is one of the finest places to experience a trekking safari in Kenya. Even after hardly preparing myself physically, the whole expedition came with much fun and I am now relishing an even greater challenge. Probably Mount Kilimanjaro. I decided to join Greg, (a friend) with one day left. I had done very little physical exercises before then, with walking to and from work and climbing a set of stairs to my third floor apartment being the only exercises I had done in a couple of months. I knew the challenge that this would have on me, but I was determined and mentally prepared. 

The whole expedition lasted three nights. I set out to get myself prepared. I got myself climbing boots, rain coat, rain trouser, gloves, touch, sleeping bag, jacket, t-shirt, hood, water bottle and sweaters. The guide, named Wilson, advised that one should take water frequently, prior to and during the journey to prevent dehydration.

We used the Sirimon route which is accessible from Nanyuki. We departed Nairobi at around 8am. The drive took around three hours. There are beautiful features along the way such as the Aberdare Mountains, Mount Kenya in the distance, and several rivers. We had lunch upon arrival at the Sirimon gate, where there is a picnic site. The altitude here is 2650m above sea level. A family of baboons kept circling around anticipating food. After the light lunch we set on foot toward the Old Moses camp. The road is wide and passable by a vehicle, though we chose to walk. A road sign informed us that we were now crossing the equator, and getting into the southern hemisphere. There is a forest of trees on both sides of the road, most of which are indigenous hardwoods such as cedar, podocarpus, and olive, among others. There are also lots of bamboo trees. The area is ideal for bird watching and we spotted a buzzard and some turacos. The gradient is generally gentle, though it was steep at some points. While we were nearly halfway through to the camp, it started drizzling and we quickly put on our rain clothes. The pour did not last long though.

We got to Old Moses camp at around 4pm where we met another group which comprised of around 15 persons. Accompanied by their guide, they had climbed a little further then back down, in order to acclimatize.  The camp is made of wood, comprises around four bedrooms, a dinning area and a kitchen. The bedrooms hold a couple of bunks beds. The camp is colored green and stands on top of a ridge. At night, one can view Nanyuki town as it is lit up. The altitude at the camp is 3300m above sea level. It was cold and one had to be in warm clothing. During and after supper, our guides informed us on the following day’s schedule. We engaged in some chat till it got time for bed.

On day two, we woke up at 6 am, had breakfast and departed for the second camp (Shiptons camp) at 7am. We set out in a single file though our group soon went ahead. Most of us were heavily dressed at the time of departure, but we gradually warmed up and took off some layers of clothing. Along the way, we came across a Weather monitoring station and from here we could see the Old Moses camp in the distance below. En route, we passed three rivers and several ridges. At the Liki Valley, a thick fog caught up with us and made it extremely chilly. After a short distance we started walking along another ridge with a river below. We had lunch at some point along the ridge. The vegetation was mainly heath and moorland and comprised of lobelias, Groundsels thistles and grasses. We also came across some hyraxes.

Then the Shiptons camp came into sight. The time was nearly 2pm. What a relief after such a long walk. The camp is set on the foot of a valley; with the peaks visible on one side. The altitude here is 4200m above sea level.  Upon arrival, we took photos, even before putting our backpacks down. The setting of the camp is very much similar to that of the Old Moses camp. After tea, we took a nap, and woke up just before supper which was at 6pm. It was extremely cold and I was wrapped in heavy clothes, which included a t-shirt, sweater, jacket, hood, scarf and gloves. Greg and I took a walk around the camp and took photos of what was breath taking scenery. We went to bed immediately after supper.

We woke up at around 2.30am on the third day, had quick tea and biscuits and set out for the peak at 3am. Everyone was dressed warmly and had a headlamp because it was pretty dark. The moon was covered by thick clouds. The ascent was very steep and we walked slowly in a single file. Pretty soon, it started snowing. The ground was also covered by a thin layer of snow and most of the noise was that of the crunching of snow as we walked through. Periodically, we would take some breaks. We passed around some tarns and ridges on the way up. Looking up, the peak still looked far, and one almost lost hope of ever reaching it. 

Finally, at around 6.30am, we reached the Lenana peak. While getting to the top, there are some coated steel cables which assist you climb. There are also a set of steel steps on a cliff through which one climbs to the summit. Sounds of excitements rent the air from everyone. We all chanted, ‘We made it!’ excitedly. The peak is flat but gently slopping and there is a Kenyan flag flying on a post. We took photos and explored the area around. Though it was day break, there were thick clouds which prevented seeing the distance. After 30 minutes or so, we started the descent. Climbing down was pretty fast but required extreme caution. As we neared the camp, a helicopter did the rounds near the peaks, probably taking some people on an aerial tour. We got back to the camp at around 9am. Had lunch and departed for the Old Moses camp. It started pouring hailstones at some point, and for me, who refused to wear rain pants, arrived soaking wet. I got into dry clothes upon arrival. We spent the third night at the camp. in the evening, we spent the time watching the scenes in the distance and the lovely sunset. During supper, we chatted with some other groups who were on their way to the top and told them what to expect. They had faces of expectation just like us on the nights before.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weekend Getaway to the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara is a National Park that everyone who has heard of it will long to visit. Even if it’s once in a lifetime. And so my friends and I set out on this thrilling road trip, which was just the perfect weekend getaway. The journey to the park took about 4 hours.

The experience started right from the Great Rift Valley view point, which is near Mai Mahiu town, about 45 kilometers from Nairobi. From here, one gets a spectacular view of the valley’s slopes and the floor below. There are numerous curio shops selling all kind of African art, from drums, to spears, paintings, bracelets made of beads, and so much more. We spent a few minutes, and after taking several photos, we continued with the drive.

From Mai Mahiu, the next major town is Narok, a drive that takes nearly two hours. The area around is flat and mainly consists of vast plains, though there are hills in the distance, and also the Mt Longonot. The road is generally straight, with very few bends. It hits your mind that you are travelling as the crow flies. All along, the road is of tarmac, very smooth and one enjoys the drive. You will occasionally come across road signs warning that gazelles cross the road. The vegetation is brown and scattered, mainly consisting of short grasses and acacia trees. At some areas, boulders have been built, presumably to prevent soil erosion. Nearing Narok town, one crosses the Ewaso Nyiro River.

From Narok, we proceeded on through the conservancies that border the Masai Mara National Park. The road is rough and it’s a bumpy drive from here on. There are relatively scattered homesteads within the conservancy. The shelters are locally known as Manyattas and are made of earth. We came across lots of herdsmen with large herds of cows, sheep and goats. The locals wear traditional Masai regalia, which comprise of beautifully colored clothe locally referred to as ‘shuka’. We also spotted some wild herbivores such as wildebeests, gazelles and zebras. We also caught a glimpse of some beautiful cranes.

We headed to the Olumara camp, which is a luxury tented camp. It is ideal for a Masai Mara budget camping safari. The camp is surrounded by a river, and there is rope suspension bridge that ushered us in. We were warmly welcomed by polite members of staff, who were ready with a glass of cool juice for every one. Just what we needed after such a long journey. We were then ushered into the lounge, were we took our drinks and were introduced to the camp’s manager and members of staff. We then proceeded to have lunch. The camp organizes bush dinners, which is so fascinating. The meal was delicious and was a full course buffet. Taking lunch in the cool open air, amidst the lovely singing of birds is just what one would want, when he/she wishes to escape usual life in the busy city.

After lunch, we headed to the camps. There are 11 camps and are all named after a wild animal or a bird. The tents have three beds each, one of which is a double. I went to a tent named hornbill. It was located in the far end of the tent, and overlooks a bridge that leads into the open fields. There was a small verandah, with a table and some chairs. A very lovely place to relax in the evening as you view the wilderness ahead and watch as the sun sets. After unpacking our bags, it started raining, but we hurried to a bar that was near the staff quarters. The camp has satellite TV, and we enjoyed watching a game of soccer while we took some drinks. We also played pool.

We were so engrossed that we were oblivious that the sun had set. We went back to the lounge where we met our other friends. We joined them and passed time having a chat. We enjoyed drinks, took photos and shared so much in the laughter. Times like this are what can be aptly described as ‘Hakuna Matata’. We were then called for dinner, and so we proceeded to the dining room. We were entertained with traditional Masai songs and dances by the locals. The dances mainly involve jumping. The lead performer explained that whoever jumps the highest attracts the most beautiful girls.

After dinner, some went to the fire place that is between the lounge and the dining room. The rest of us remained in the dining room and chatted for some time before going to bed. Back at the tents, the three of us who were in it sat by the verandah, where we listened to some hyenas laughing and a lion in the distance roaring.

We woke up early the following morning ready for a game drive. It is best to watch the animals in the morning before they retreat into the bushes and hiding places. We spotted a herd of elephants, some hippos in a river, a lone hyena, wildebeests, a vulture perched on top of a tree and two lionesses. The latter however ran away when our van got too close.

We went back to the camp for breakfast at around 9am. After the heavy and delicious breakfast, we prepared for departure. It was such a well spent weekend, the kind you wish would never come to an end.

The Olumara Luxury Tented Camp

The OluMara Camp is a luxury tented camp in Kenya that is located in one of the conservancies that border the Masai Mara National Park. The term OluMara was coined from the words Oluaru and Mara. The term Oluaru is Masai for a place that is known to be inhabited by leopards. The area around which the camp is built was known to be frequented by leopards. The camp is surrounded by a river, which acts as a barrier and prevents wild animals from nearing the tents.

A sign that welcomes one to the camp is wooden, and has a small round top made of thatched grass acting as a roof. On its foot, there are three huge animal skulls. Two are buffalo skulls while the other is an antelope’s. When entering the camp’s compound, one crosses a river through a rope suspension bridge. It is so awesome crossing the bridge, as it sways from left to right. All these bring the thrilling feeling of a real safari in Kenya.

Upon arrival, one is met by most welcoming members of staff, who will eagerly be waiting with glasses of cool juice, to relieve you from the heat of the long drive. Guests are then led to a comfortable lounge. The furniture in the lounge such as tables is extracted from large chunks of wood or logs, with the natural shape maintained. They are however smoothly polished. The sofas are luxurious and comfortable.

Most guests will usually arrive just in time for lunch. The camp organizes bush lunches and dinners. The table is set a few meters away from the main dining room. The meals are sumptuous and comprise a full buffet course. There’s nothing more thrilling than the experience of having lunch in the open bush, accompanied by the chirping of birds in the trees and the cool air provided by the shade from the trees and the cool breeze. The perfect getaway from the norm in the civilized cities.

The compound in the camp is green with well mowed grass. The tents are 11 in total. They are named after animals and birds. The camps are big enough and usually accommodate 3 beds, one of which will usually be a double bed. The beds are very comfortable and have very soft duvets. There is a lamp stand next to each bed. There is a verandah with a table and chairs, facing the open fields where one can enjoy a cool time. They are self contained and the washrooms are clean.

The dining area is big enough and also has a bar. During dinner, Masai men entertain the guests with traditional Masai songs and dances. At night, the lounge is lit by numerous lantern lamps. There is a fireplace between the lounge and the dining room, where guests can sit around a fire under the star lit sky.

There is a wake up call at 6am for tourists to take an early game drive, just before breakfast. It is best to watch the animals in the mornings just before they retire to their hiding places, or late in the afternoons when they start emerging. Next time you plan to visit the Mara, Olumara camp would be a fine place to consider.