Nairobi -> Nyeri
Following a good sleep and a surprisingly British buffet breakfast, we assembled in the foyer. Soon after, our transport arrived out front: Big Toyota 4×4’s. Yeah, I admit to being a tiny wee bit disappointed that they weren’t Land Rovers, but these machines suitably looked the part (much more than the average safari vehicle, as I would find). As well as our vehicles, we were introduced to our driver/guide. Cyrus was an extremely mild, incredibly courteous and professional man.
Sharing our vehicle were a lovely couple from England. I forget their names (I’m sure Uncle Tom will remember). But as I said, they were lovely people and we all got along extremely well.
With our luggage loaded up, we jumped in and off we went. While I knew that we wouldn’t be driving straight into the wide grassy plains of David Attenborough territory, I honestly had no definite idea what to expect once we left the city. I was surprised by how orange the place was. I’m told this means that the soil is very fertile. As we drove we asked Cyrus about the endless green fields we passed and were chuffed to discover that it was pineapples growing outside the window.
I was told that we would eventually be able to see Mount Kenya as we travelled North, so I spent a lot of the time scanning the horizon – to little result… or so I thought. We stopped off at the first of the little roadside souvenir shops that were to become almost a staple of any journey. Seriously, these shops, usually painted with zebra pattern, were like pit stops. It was nice to get out and stretch the legs and I appreciated them because it meant I actually got to experience the country on the ground, as opposed to just see it whizzing past out the window of a car. Most of the stuff on offer was hand carved wooden statuettes and the like – all of it very impressive craftsmanship. Dad spent most of these stops looking for a giraffe for my cousin before finally purchasing one later on in the trip. I eventually picked up a couple of soap stone boxes because… well, you never know when you’ll need a small soapstone box. On the whole, however, aside from a quick in and out with the crowd in order to admire the crafts I stayed outside, in the shade, and admired the landscape. This was for two reasons:
1) Africa is beautiful.
2) I really, really, really hate haggling.
After a couple of hours of travelling, we arrived at Nyeri. It came upon us kind of suddenly. One minute there was orange soil covered in small farms with deep green plants, then we were in a small town with dusty brick buildings, and from there we pulled up into the yellow gravel drive of a small church. We disembarked, stretched our legs and, after a moment, were taken into the yellow grassed graveyard and over to the grave of Robert Baden-Powell.
For those who don’t know – and I didn’t until I read it in the bumpf that described the holiday – Robert Baden-Powell was the man who founded the Scout Movement. I was never in the scouts, but I appreciate the value of a good outdoor education. We all assembled around the nicely maintained grave (it’s a National Monument of Kenya) while a man told us all about Baden-Powell. Now, I know this is going to make me sound old myself, but this was when I first realised the benefit of being in a tour party consisting pretty entirely much of old people. Say what you want about the last generation, but they understood respect. Most young ‘uns these days can’t even spell the bloody word. I remember when…. sorry, back to Baden-Powell and everyone respectfully listening to stuff that, except to one or two of the assembled people, probably wasn’t that interesting.
We were told about Baden-Powell’s life, his service in Africa, and how he started the scout movement. I think. I can’t remember. What I do remember is the part about how he asked to be buried with his grave facing Mount Kenya. Given that I’d been looking for the mountain for most of the trip, without success, I promptly perked up and turned around to face the horizon. I saw the trees forming the horizon on a distant hill, then nothing but haze. Pity, I though. Maybe the air would clear later.
And then saw Mount Kenya. The scale had thrown me. I was expecting the mountain to be a peak in the distance, clearly standing out against the sky.
To help put things in perspective here, I did a little googling:
Ben Nevis (which I have seen close by) has a prominence of 1’344m (from ‘ground’ to peak).
Mount Kenya has a prominence of 3’825m.
Mount Kenya was so much bigger than I had expected or even believed possible.
The mountain was the sky.
I was so dumbfounded I didn’t take a picture.
However, I found one on Flickr:
We went straight from Baden-Powel’s grave to Baden Powel’s former residence, namely the Outspan Lodge. The lodge is a bit like a country or farm house (apparently it was built up from a farm). It actually reminded me of an English country garden.
See what I mean?
When we arrived at the front we dumped all our luggage in the small reception hall and made our way round to the back garden (pictured – we were just behind that tall tree). There was a little stepped patio, wooden benches and tables on the grass and (thank God) in the shade. There was even a fake little wooden well. All very quaint.
If memory serves, we spent an hour or so having lunch (another British buffet) and enjoying the gardens. The lodge is set within sprawling and incredibly well maintained gardens. Species of plant’s have been brought from all over the world and they all flourish beautifully in the Kenyan climate. I remember a huge patch of bamboo and this tree here:
Anyhoo, after lunch a group of Kikuyu people danced past and we followed them down to the replica Kikuyu village. There we watched as they performed traditional dances and songs, including a coming of age ceremony in which Uncle James had his foreskin removed. Possibly. They may have just pretended. After the singing and dancing we were shown around and inside the huts. They were happy to answer any questions we had and seemed genuinely eager to tell us all about their culture. Things like hut construction, details on the circumcision traditions and even the brewing of alcoholic beverages.
Then, of course, they tried to sell us stuff. Fair enough, I suppose. I bought a cow tail fly swatter.
We spent a fairly comfortable night in the Lodge. The whole place struck me as very victorian – I don’t know why, but I imagined Queen Victoria staying there if she ever visited Kenya. The white tiles stained with age, the ancient taps, the retro electrical sockets – it was all familiar, yet different. Very spacious, though. I shared a room with my Uncle James, while my Dad and Uncle Tommy shared a room together. They had a fireplace. I was jealous.
As night fell we made a brief outing together around the grounds, finishing off at a small bar where a wood fire sent smoke and heat out in equal measure. We enjoyed a drink, then went off to bed.
Outspan Nature Walk
In the morning, after a British buffet breakfast we went on a nature walk down through the gardens and the forest to the Chania river. Our guide was great, full of knowledge about just about every aspect of the flora and fauna and keen to boot. He pointed out everything of interest and answered every question put to him. The things I remember most were:
- The disected and discarded bodies of black ants and other insects along the trails and nests of the red ants.
- The porcupine quill I found (and still have).
- The river at the bottom of our downward route and the now familiar farms and makeshift houses on the far bank.
- The God Tree
Okay, maybe ‘God Tree’ isn’t an accurate name, but the Mugumo Tree is a sacred tree for the Kikuyu, even today. This particular specimen is 500 years old. My photo doesn’t do it justice, this thing was pretty huge.
I might be making this up, but I’m sure that our guide told us that a local rebel leader hid up this tree during a revolution in the not too distant past.
We spent a good hour wandering through the forest and it was brilliant! It made me remember how much I love wildlife and why I was on safari in Africa in the first place.
Eventually we returned to the Lodge, spent a little more time wandering the gardens (I may have done some reading), then we boarded the trucks and headed off for the Aberdare National Park and Treetops Lodge. At the time, I had no idea what that actually meant.