It’s Mostly Green and Brown in Kenya

March 4, 2008

We touched down in Nairobi at 10:19 PM on Friday, February 15th and it was 21°C outside. I stepped off the plane and I started sweating in the heat and humidity. Earlier that day I had scraped my car of ice and snow and the difference in temperature was immediately apparent. We stayed one mosquito-ridden night in Nairobi then headed to Laikipia Nature Conservancy the next day on a charter plane. This was our plane’s landing strip:

Laikipia Nature Conservancy is located at Ol Ari Nyiro, a private, 100,000 acre ranch located about 2,000 m above sea level and just north of the Equator. Once we landed we headed by safari bus to our site and on the way we passed a small herd of zebra at a watering hole:

This was my home for the next ten days: a safari tent with my own private non-flushing toilet, shower and washing area. No running water and no electricity. It was the last tent in a long line of tents and, due to the isolation, was closer to all the wildlife. In the mornings I would see herds of impala just four feet from my door.

I was able to walk around during the day though not into the bush. At night, I was not allowed to walk alone and had to have a guard with me when I walked back to my tent. I had to sign an indemnity waiver stating that I understood that wild animals are dangerous and that Laikipia wouldn’t be held responsible in my accidental injury or death.

There was only one time that I was ever in any real danger. I was being walked back to my tent by a guard around 10 PM one night and we heard a crashing in the bush nearby. Out of the shadows came a big bull elephant, about 20 ft away. My guard chased me up onto the veranda of my tent and we watched in bated breath as the elephant lumbered by. It was uncomfortably close.

At mealtimes, I passed a pretty lily growing up out of the dry, dusty ground:

There were always beautiful centerpieces on the meal table:

Exploring around I would see cactus surrounded by tall poles to keep unsuspecting wanderers from walking into them:

Though most of the time the plants were so big you didn’t have a problem seeing them:

I stumbled upon some aloe plants and actually used some of it later in my trip when I had a really bad sunburn:

It was so neat to wander around and see new plants. Here is Bougainvillea in bloom:

Beneath it was a familiar large jade plant, growing outside all year round:

I went on a trip to visit a displaced Samburu tribe, leaving Laikipia Nature Conservancy and heading out into the unprotected lands. The Samburu had been chased out of their lands near the conservancy by the Pokot tribe. I saw fields of maize growing unsuccessfully by the Pokot due to the lack of water:

Once, when we stopped for a bathroom break, barefoot children emerged silently from the brush to watch us. The littler ones seemed ready to bolt when I got too close to them:

We stopped in a village to pick up 5,000 (KES) shilling’s worth (about $75 CDN) of rice and sugar to give as a gift to the Samburu tribe we were visiting. Here is a shot of 257 KES, roughly $3.80 CDN, and could buy you a medium-size bag of Kenyan coffee or three Tusker beers and a soda.

It took about 3 hours to get to our destination, a distance of about 70 km. The roads were terrible: washed out, filled with rocks or non-existent. It was a joyous moment when we hit asphalt though it was short-lived when we went back to this:

Once we met the Samburu warriors, all our aches, bumps and bruises went away:

We also spent time with the Samburu women:

As we said goodbye, we gave them our gift of rice and sugar and then drove about 2 km to eat our lunch. This tribe had been on the run from the Pokot and they had lost many of their skins and animals. They were starving and we were told not to eat in front of them. Later that week, the night of the lunar eclipse, the Samburu fought the Pokot who were stronger and ten people that we had met died in the fighting.

We took the long road back to Laikipia, staying on the paved roads that took us through Nyahururu and Nakuru. In both towns there were large groups of Kenyans assembling near the side of the road listening to political talk. We were told not to take pictures and we didn’t stop. The rest of the way back was spent yelling “Jambo” and returning happy waves of hello to children and onlookers as we sped by. The total distance of the trip was 178 km and it took 6 hours, 3 hours there and 3 hours back.

Getting near the guarded gate of the conservancy, we had a stark view of the difference between the conservancy and the unprotected area:

On the left is the conservancy and on the right is the unprotected land, both sides divided by an electric fence. Entering Laikipia we had our first glimpse of a big bull elephant, we saw about 34 more elephants in a 15 minute span on our way back to the site.

The next day I saw a gorgeous Brugmansia plant. I should tell you that I had been given a brug at a plant exchange last year, a small 6″ tall stick, that I promptly killed. I was in awe when I saw this:

The staff residences were quite small compared to our roomy safari tents:

I found out later that the staff make about $1 CDN a day. They are hard workers: hauling water, washing clothes, cleaning tents and preparing food for 150 hungry artists. The staff were helpful and kind.

One evening I went on a game drive and saw a giraffe!

I went to a lookout called Paulo’s Rock and stayed until the sun set:

On my way to the festival site I saw an African fishing eagle beside a lake:

Someone found a chameleon in the bush!

Eventually I had to say goodbye to those 25° C balmy, summery days in Kenya and on Sunday, February 24th I headed back home to Canada. It was a 30 hour return flight from door to door and included 4 planes. I was so cold that when I went out for dinner that night I wore a t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt and my down-filled winter jacket through the entire meal.

Here I am on my way to work:

Date: Friday, February 29, 2008
Time: 7:40 AM EST
Temperature: -19° C
Feels Like: -28° C

That’s my Kenyan experience in a nutshell. I miss those sunny days however I do love running water and flushing toilets!

7 Responses to “It’s Mostly Green and Brown in Kenya”

  1. Muriel Says:

    Wonderful post! I am amazed that you went, at a time when so there has been such chaos in the country. But as I have found when I was in Athen, Greece during the coup in 1973, horrible things can be happening 2 blocks away from you and you don’t even know it! The media, with its focus on the sensational, tends to lead us to believe that the chaos is everywhere. But your visit indicates otherwise.

    Terrible about those people whom you visited, and were slain after you met them…

    I am blogging about my trip to Morocco, should you be interested.

  2. Fascinating trip and wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing.

    The “lily” is a crinum, perhaps.

  3. Pam/Digging Says:

    I enjoyed reading about your trip to Kenya. I went to Tanzania last summer, and while I saw many of the same nature sights as you, your experience was a little “closer to the bone.”

    If you care to visit, I have separate posts about the wildlife, people, and plants. But I like how you combined yours all in one.

  4. Queensharbot Says:

    Absolutely love your blog. Thank you for sharing your Kenya experience with us – in Ottawa we’re looking at the 50cm of snow this weekend and I know your in the same boat in Kemptville.
    You inspire me to get off my tush and get blogging – I’m so far behind.
    Welcome back. Winter sowing can be addictive. This year I’m trying square foot gardening for the first time.
    McPeg – GardenWeb member

  5. Wow, makes you think about what other ‘tender plants’ that we grow as annuals or overwinter in our cold winter windows look like in their native climes.

    I’ve put an updated link to your blog on my blog, btw as many people expressed interest in your fab. name.

  6. Kathy Says:

    Thanks everyone! Kenya was beautiful and while I’m happy to be back I do miss those sunny, summery days. This past weekend’s snow dump has brought us to 13.3 feet of snow this season, just shy of the 1970-1971 record of 14.5 feet of snow. Amazing!

    McPeg, nice to hear from you! I tried my own version of square foot gardening last year using mini blinds to create the grids. It worked okay until I realized that I has created ant “super-highways” that protected them from the rain and other elements. This year I’m scraping off 2″ of soil off the top of my raised bed so that I can cover the entire area with water and drown them all. I might cobble together a twine grid and elevate it so I can see any ant hills. I look forward to reading how your garden grows!

    Ottawa Gardener, I think I was the only one in my group who was dumbfounded when we saw that jade plant! That and the brugmansia which really blew me away. Thanks for the link!

  7. sammyqc Says:

    Hi Kathy.
    Your pictures are absolutely stunning! Not just the brug (wow) but all of them!! Glad I came across the link to your blog. If you want to try another brug, (grin), promise you won’t kill it, just let me know. I’ve been adding to my collection, and have quite a few this year that are new. I also still have my big mama brug, that started me off years ago on brugmania. Haven’t been as active on GWeb, as I used to, so many other things going on, but if there’s gonna be a get together this year, I’d love it. I remember that Bernie had wanted a brug, but never did get one. If you run into her, or talk to her, could you let her know that I still have them, with her name on them!!
    I’ll put your blog addy on mine, if that’s okay. Really good work!!!

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