The Marvel of Kenya’s Hell’s Kitchen

The spectacular Marafa Depression, also known as Hell’s Kitchen, is a sandstone canyon outside of Malindi, Kenya. 

Into the Unknown: Hike to the Everest Base Camp

Do I stop walking in the middle of nowhere because I just cannot take any more step or do I keep pushing, even though it’s becoming physically impossible? Is it my mind that’s giving up or my legs?

What will my parents say if I fell down from a 400 feet see-through suspended bridge in the Himalaya? How will this make sense to them? They know I’m very adventurous but wouldn’t this be a little too much?

Why am I here? What is it about mountains and the outdoors that I cannot get enough of?

Don’t forget to be on the mountain side when Yaks (long-haired domesticated bovid)  pass by.

I wish I was on my couch.

Oh God, get me to safety!

These and many more were some of the thoughts that were going through my mind when I was experiencing physical and mental exhaustion as I have never had before during my Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal.

My trek started out with an exhilarating flight from the capital Kathmandu to Lukla. Lukla airport is one of the most dangerous airport in the world because of its short, treacherous runway on a steep cliff. So, the first relief of the multi-day journey starts with landing safely at Lukla airport. Then begins the grueling, 90 miles (154 km) round-trip trek to Base Camp at a very high altitude, where the air gets thinner with each elevation gain .

Everything started out great. I was feeling strong, great pace, enjoying the extraordinary view, making new friends, counting my blessing, and just soaking it all in until half way through the trek where I got the flu because of the extremely cold temperatures at night (-20 to -10) and sanitary conditions at the tea houses. (Tea houses provide accommodations for trekkers. They are run by locals and all trekkers basically have to stay there at different stations along the route).

At the Everest Base Camp

I do relatively ok at higher altitudes so I wasn’t having altitude sickness but was suffering from cough, sore throat, headache, lost my appetite, and had no energy to keep on (lost 10lbs (4.5kgs) on the trek, I can’t really complain about that).

I observed that the trekking industry in Nepal is so unregulated that it’s actually dangerous for the many tourists that visit the region. Many of them get sick, some lose their lives, and many feel drained so much so that they vow not to ever go back again.

I remember thinking, I cannot return without accomplishing my goal. Turning back was not an option I wanted to consider. I thought I will be so disappointed at myself that I decided to push through the difficulty. Happy to say, I made it!

Himalayan mountain range is the highest mountain range in the world. In this range, Mountain Everest is the tallest mountain. Therefore the Himalayas is a range of mountains while Sagarmatha (the “mountain that touches the sky”) or, Mt. Everest, is one mountain.

Everest Base Camp at 17, 600 feet (5,365 meters) is the gateway to Mt. Everest. It’s one of the most surreal and unique places I have ever been. It felt remote, dangerous, but exciting and beautiful at the same time. I was lucky to get there early before other trekkers so I had Base Camp for myself for 2:30 hrs before the crowd. I wanted to stay longer but I needed to get to a lower altitude for me to feel better. Despite the physical exhaustion, I realized that the only way I was able to make it was because of an unexplainable desire and determination to fulfill my goal.  

I have had so many favorite moments throughout my journey. Seeing Mt. Everest for the first time in a clear sky and wonder what it would mean to be up there, looking at the stars at night over  Everest from Kala Patthar, being able to cross those insane, see-through, wobbly, suspended bridges (personal goal), and so on.

This experience meant so much. Each day was filled with a reality, story, thoughts, and imagination that I still need time to process. It pushed me to my limit, but it did not break me. It’s a tremendous opportunity and a self-discovery journey.

I promised myself that I will never go back to the Himalaya for any kind of trekking but that seemed to quickly fade away even during my flight back home. Save me from myself!

*Selam Mesfin is an Ethiopian-American adventurer. She lives California and has traveled to over 67 countries and 42/50 US States.

The call of Mt. Whitney, Contiguous USA Highest Peak

I started hiking a few years ago because it is a bit of a mix of sports and outdoors, both of which I enjoy.

At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal to hike Mt.Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada with an elevation of 14,505 ft (4421 meters), 22 miles (36km) round-trip, 6,100 ft (1859 meters) elevation gain. In order to prepare for this challenge, I hiked many of the Southern California mountains including San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California with 11,503 ft (3506 meters).

After few months of training, on Sunday, July 3, 2016, at 2:00AM, I started the journey to conquering the world famous Whitney trail with three of my team members. The weather was pleasant, except for some temperature fluctuation in the early hours. The recent warm temperature has melted most of the Winter snow on the trail. There was some snow towards the summit, which required me to have my micro-spikes. The trail starts at 8,360 ft (2548 meters) with quick elevation gain. I saw few people struggle with elevation, but I have found myself to acclimate relatively well so the quick elevation gain did not bother me.

After 7 hours and 11 miles (18km) of continuous ascent, I was able to reach the summit to be rewarded with such a magnificent view that Mt. Whitney can only offer. I stayed at the summit for about 40 minutes enjoying the views and taking plenty of pictures. I was also able to sign the Mt. Whitney registry as part of Mt. Whitney legacy, which was so special.

Hiking Whitney was a difficult physical and mental challenge, but it has also been very rewarding. I felt greater sense of accomplishment and a sense of assurance that anything is possible if we put our mind and effort into it. I always encourage people to go out and experience what nature has to offer. There is so much beauty not to enjoy.

Signing the famous register

*Selam Mesfin is an Ethiopian-American adventurer. She lives in California and has traveled to 67 countries and 42 US States.

Ololokwe: In the clouds of a perfect mountain

Perfect timing for a perfect Mountain!  Mt Ololokwe aka Oldoinyio Sapache  is my last major hike for 2018. 

It not only closed a remarkable hiking year but also a milestone for a mountain that has deep spiritual connections among the Maa speakers of Northern Kenya. It was only fair that I came here after Oldoinyio Lengai– another shrine of a mountain where my people converse with God during challenging times in the south (northern Tanzania).

The night before the hike was at Sabache Camp, a gem that’s sandwiched between Mt. Ololokwe and Loontare Hill. I am in the company of seasoned travellers (LG Shiks and two friends). We arrived at night by following Dipa, the camp manager, on a winding dirt road, not seeing much beyond the headlights but the profiles of dark mountains against the moonlight.

6:00 AM: We filed out of the camp, led by a quiet Samburu guide. I prayed for God’s protection and asked my legs to bravely carry me. The climb is steep and the trail is narrow – one foot after the other, following the famous elephant trail towards the top. At 6:37AM, the sun rose, painting the east with shades of orange.

The magic of sunrise and mountains. Photo: John Kisimir

There were two men ahead of us and one gasped at the rising sun. He has never seen sunrise from such a vantage point. That is the magic of mountains.

As we trudged on, elephant dung on the trail, broken branches and barks peeled off from trees – this is elephant country.

We reached the eastern rim slightly after an hour.  Loontare Hill sat pretty from northeast, shyly touching the rear side of his superior brother. From a distance I could see the famous rocks (Nkadoru Murto) where rich tourists sometimes land helicopters. 

Below us, the Isiolo – Moyale highway beautifully finds its way through the arid country.

I looked down again to admire the amazing view of Sabache camp – perfect location.  My mind drifted towards its manager, Dipa. When we arrived late last night, he offered us his room because another group arrived at the camp with more guests than booked and dislodged us. When I woke up at 5:00AM to get ready for the hike, I found him asleep on a mat by the bonfire site.  

To the West is a surprising view– all green, a mix of forest and open lush grass patches. Now I understood why elephants take the trouble of making treacherous trails to come here. 

The guide nudged us on, a little impatient with our pace. We walked west into the forest. The clean heavy oxygen hit our lungs as the calm breeze cooled down the sweat. It is an easy walk mostly on flat land.

At the top is lush and green! Photo: John Kisimir

We arrived at the Southern rim of the mountain after another hour. It’s a mammoth rock face and is what gives this mountain its magnificent shape. From a distance, the rock wears the top of the mountain like a hat, and then drops down hundreds of metres, making Mt. Ololokwe look like a massive tree stump from a distance.

Engulfed by clouds on the southern rim. Photo: John Kisimir

Below us, the eagles flew in cyclic patterns – six pairs and my heart leapt in awe at their welcoming party! Cattle bells of the Samburu people rang from a distance. Their circular villages are perched under miniature hills many kilometres below us. 

Then the clouds came in intervals, running over the mountain – engulfing us in acceptance.

I feel the presence of God. Mountains will always remain my true place of worship!  

We returned to the camp in time for lunch. Dipa, again showed his kindness by driving me to the nearest town, Archers Post, where I hitch hiked to my next destination.

Sabache camp, perched between mountains. Photo: John Kisimir
An eagle welcoming party, flying in cyclic patterns. Photo: John Kisimir

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Naloolo: The Spirit of African Exploration

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I am an Explorer. An explorer is a traveller-storyteller, a seeker of the unknown. I travel and tell stories of our people, mountains, rangelands, rivers and wildlife in East Africa.

I have traveled to 40 countries around the world – Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.  One of my favourite accomplishments so far was driving 6000Km from South Africa to Ethiopia.

My inspiration to travel came from my father when I was very young. One evening, he brought home a large book with a black cover.

“What is that?” I asked.
“It is a map,” he answered.
“What is a map?”  I asked.
Dunia.The world,” he said.

He opened the atlas – I saw the different parts of Kenya, Africa and the world. My eyeballs could have fallen out with excitement. I had never seen such a colourful book in my entire life. I had no idea how big the world was and we spent hours following roads, towns, rivers, mountains and oceans on the maps.

This encounter changed my perspective about school and developed a singular focus to finish school and travel the world.

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Why Naloolo Explorer?
There are two things that worry me about the environment in Africa. The first is that many Africans are getting disconnected from nature as they embrace urbanisation. Many can no longer connect their future to the existence of pristine rangelands, mountains, forests and wildlife.

Secondly, even though Africa has changed in the last few centuries, what has not changed is how the story of exploration and expeditions is told. This story and its tellers have not changed since the arrival of the first European explorers in the 15thcentury. Western travel and conservation media outlets still majorly control the narrative.

This story telling space needs to be expanded to accommodate the natives of Africa. Expanding it will bring not just add Africans voices to the media but millions of audiences that will re-connect with their lands, cultures and wildlife heritage.

In late 2017, I set out to change the above issues and formed Naloolo Explorer (www.naloolo.wordpress.com), an exploration outfit that will put passionate modern day African explorers in the media to tell stories of their continent and in the process reconnect people to nature.

It has been a life changing experience building Naloolo Explorer from a simple blog to something that many people follow and admire.

 In order to do this, I drew inspiration from the wandering spirit of my people – a people that travelled the vast lands of eastern Africa for centuries. With their long spears, they ruled this land until they were silenced by the arrival of incurable diseases (that killed 70% of their population) and the power of European weaponry. Like many nomadic people in Africa, the Maasai were the true explorers.

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I started traveling – climbing mountains and other amazing destinations in East Africa. I wrote and photographed about these adventures and shared with my social media followers. The response was astounding. The first question from fellow Africans is always:

“Why are you doing this?”

My response: “Why Not?”

Over the months as I traveled, wrote and photographed, the narrative changed to:

“Can I come with you on your next hike?”

“I admire your courage”

“I love what you do” and “You make us proud.”

I expect this movement to keep growing and I am happy that my travels, writing and photography is encouraging people to travel and connect with nature. The more citizens travel, the more they are inclined to care and protect their environment.

Stories matter and must be told and that is my purpose in life.

See details www.naloolo.wordpress.com
Naloolo Explorer: The Journey Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqUBeJqjZ5A

Ngong Hills Adventure: Hiking with My Father

My name is Timpiyian Nanana Kisimir.  I am 13 years old.  I am going to tell you about my experience of a recent hike on Ngong Hills. Ngong Hills is a series of seven peaks. We started early walking up the first hill from the gate (I, dad and brother, Lemayian) after saying hello to the rangers. It was fun as we took photos of the wind turbines and talked to friendly Maasai children who were selling sweets along the way. Dad told us many stories and learned a lot about the mountain and animals that live on it.

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We started cheerfully with my brother, Lemayian.

The first hill was quite long but not steep, had a nice breeze, which a think is caused by the tall wind turbines. We took breaks to rest, drunk water and snacked.

We proceeded to the second hill, which was quiet steep. As we approached it, dad asked me if I wanted to use a short cut but I was determined to take the rough and tough way. It was a hard, steep and slippery but we still climbed and reached the top.

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I chose the tough steep climbs, avoided short cuts. Not an easy job!

Going down hill number two was not a problem because it was filled with long nice grass and not rocky. Our goal was to reach the summit and we would not give up. Lemayian walked faster than us but slowed down many times to wait for us. In hiking, one of the rules is to stick together so that no one gets lost.

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Tough but fun. We were determined to reach the summit!

The third hill was even steeper than the second and was rocky but dad helped me. Lemayian did not need any help – he had good shoes and was good at climbing. Climbing the third hill was easy. The fourth hill was not steep but it was one of the hardest to climb because of all the rocks and the soil was very slippery. Going down was very nice and smooth filled with good grass.

We met many people on the way and said hello. We saw people who came to the mountain to pray because of the quietness and beautiful nature. They pray for the country and other things.

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We also found people who had given up climbing and were waiting for their companions to come back so they can return together. We met found a lady who had flat shoes and a formal white dress! Dad told us that he had even met ladies who came to the mountain on high heels! I could not imagine myself climbing hills with high heels! I also saw a boy who used to be in my school with four other boys, accompanied by their father.

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Keep waking. Don’t even think of giving up!

Now it was time to climb the hardest of them all – the fifth hill! In the middle of the fourth and fifth hill there is about 100 meters of flat land. We rested, took photos as we prepared for the climb to the summit. This is the tallest of all hills that makes Ngong Hills. It is steep and a forest. We were surrounded by so many trees and insects like fire ants. I did not enjoy this stretch because of the rocks – I slipped many times as I led us upwards. It was tough but I was determined to reach the top and there was a lot of sweat and pain as but we finally reached the top.

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The forest area as a tough section with twigs, bees, wasps and fire ants.

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We took breaks to rest and eat. I was tired. So tired!

We sat down – exhausted and had snacks (yoghurt, cup cakes, milk, soda). We then had conversations with other hikers who were at the summit.

Going down the hills was very rough and painful.  I thought it would be easier to go down but I was surprised to find it very tough. Dad knows this mountain inside out so we took some short cuts around the steep sections because the shoes were hurting my toes. It was very painful but got better when I removed the shoes and walked barefoot. I had to walk without shoes!

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Mission accomplished! Celebration on reaching the summit.

We got back late afternoon and passed by a friend’s place for lunch. I fell asleep while watching T.V and it really helped. We then said our good byes and left at around 5:30pm and returned home for a restful movie night.

My experience at Ngong hills was fun and adventurous. It was my first serious hike on a mountain – I really enjoyed it even though it was quiet hard. I will never forget!

Naserian Maasai Mara Camp: Nature, Culture and Luxury

DSC00442.JPGOne of the negative aspects of Kenya’s tourism sector is the simplification of African cultures. The much you would encounter in most Maasai Mara lodges and camps is a little Maasai dance – just colour, men jumping, mostly singing about nothing. You might also stop by a manyatta –  where poor school drop outs and their families would dance for you, for a pittance.

The big attraction here is wildlife – a resource that has been protected by a culture of tolerance that borders on deep spirituality. But tourism and conservation does not want to share that credit with local cultures.

So, over the years I have experienced African cultures being over simplified for the tourist – a story here, a dance here, a false tale to impress.

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Last week, after a day long hike to hike to Kileleoni Hill, the highest point in the Mara ecosystem, I found myself at Naserian Mara Camp – a new luxury facility in the north of the game reserve.

I met the proprietor, Mark ole Karbolo – an interesting fellow, with intense views on things life. Over a bonfire, we chatted over the state of wildlife, tourism and culture.

Mark is still putting final touches on the facility in readiness for flood of tourists in the coming weeks. He is among the very few locals who own such a facility in the Mara.

“I will give you nature, culture and luxury,” Mark told me. It is an assertion from the heart – you can feel it in his breathe and spark in his eyes.SONY DSC

We had a long chat about his dream for an exceptional facility – a place where both wildlife and Maa culture will truly be celebrated in equal footing. A place that not only give five start hotel service but also educate the tourists.

As an experienced traveler and critic of Kenya’s tourism industry, it is impossible to doubt that Naserian Camp has joined the elite luxury facilities in the Mara. The rooms have been meticulously done, spacious and cozy. The wildlife is a stone throw away and lions actually had a huge brawl though out the night.

SONY DSCWhat will set this camp apart from the others is its possibility to deliver authentic Maasai culture to its clients. That is where everyone has failed or just not interested.

Mark is convinced that he has no business running just another tourist facility if it offers what he believes has been the failure of others.

Only time will tell and I will surely return in the near future to see it for myself.

https://naserianmaracamp.com

 

Kileleoni Hill: The Roof Of Maasai Mara

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Our guide, Amos Kipeen

For the most part, Maasai Mara consists of flat land with a few hills and many ridges. The safari paradise with its vast plains is overwhelmingly beautiful but can also get dull.

So, some members of Friends of Maasai Mara sought a new challenge by hiking to the highest point in the horizon.

I first took interest in Kileleoni Hill weeks ago, while on a visit to a rhino sanctuary in the north of the game reserve. It is the highest elevation in the Mara ecosystem – a beautiful hill that hosts one of my favourite animals – the colobus monkey. It is also the only place to find the rare mountain reedbuck.

Seeing a rhino up-close is an emotional thing – I heard gasps of “wow and hmm…” from the visitors. But my focus was on the mountain. It stood straight up with rocks that looked like they were deliberately placed.  It was densely forested and there were many spots of white atop the trees, which I later learnt, were the shy colobus monkeys.

I made a mental note to return for this hill.

On my return, I spent the night at Lemek town, with a friend, Fred Kariankei. Fred made it clear to the team that he is not interested in “looking for trouble” – his mild way of saying hiking is such a waste of time. He uttered the words slowly just to make sure they sink in. He agreed to drive us though, as close to the hiking trail as possible.

We were dropped off just after Rekero Camp, on the eastern side of Kileleoni Hill. The area is dense with acacia forest, lots of wild fruit trees – a perfect habitat for browsing and grazing ungulates, as well as hideout thickets for the predators.

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Yours truly and Sintoyia Sengeny at the summit.

There were elephant dung everywhere – the grass is healthy from the manure. It is an active wildlife area and there were lots of signs. Please be accompanied by armed rangers if you are not familiar with this territory.

Our team leader, Amos Kipeen, who grew up here, used his sword to make us walking sticks and started off the trail, followed by Harrison Taga and Sintoyia Sengeny.

It was one happy leisure walk – the wild fruits that we ate during childhood while grazing livestock are in season and on several occasions we huddled around fruit trees. It was one beautiful way for down the memory lane moments.

It took us about an hour to get to the summit which is about 2040 metres above sea level. We had several stops for water and laughter – the stories. There were several moments when larger mammals bolted out of the bushes and ran away. We had giraffes intensely watching as if counting minutes for us to leave.

We had a moment where some of us saw the rare mountain reedbuck for the first time.

But the icing on the cake was being at the roof of Maasai Mara. Atop Kileleoni Hill, you can see as far as the eye could see – the stretch towards Serengeti, Kilgoris, Bomet, Lemek and beyond.

By the way, our driver friend, Fred, took our lunch and water closer to the summit by car – there is road. Then he decided to hike for the remaining 1km and insisted on not missing on the photo sessions. Sawa tu!

If you truly want to see how breathtaking the Maasai Mara ecosystem is, get to its roof.

Enjoy the photos from the hike.

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The making of walk.ing sticks

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Oh wild fruits!

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Harris Taga leading on the trail

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Hungry!

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The summit of Kileleoni Hill is the highest point in Mara.

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I see down there!

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Your sighting of the rate mountain reedbuck

Maasai Mara: Perfect Calm Before the Wildebeest Storm

This is one of the most beautiful moments in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. We have had months of unbelievable rain. It is lash green – tall grass.

Areas of the game reserve that were once degraded by thousands of livestock that grazed illegally at night for years have healed. And this is such a relief.

The grass is so tall such that most grazers have left the park and found home in community lands and conservancies where the grass is shorter and where they all feel safe from predators. This means that the lions and fellow meat eaters are following them. Do not be surprised to find lions right at the gates of the reserve or sometimes marauding in the small towns.

But the elephants and bigger mammals seem to be doing great inside the park – they are out in great numbers – lots of calves recently born.

The park is so quiet without the wildebeests. Ii gives you that city feeling of 3:00AM. It is literally a perfect calm before the great storm because soon and very soon, millions of wildebeests and zebras will arrive from the Serengeti.

They will fill the plains and mow down the tall grass to the ground. They bring with them noise and drama that irritates the elephant and the buffalo. They will awaken the ferocity of the lions and the insanity of the urban tourist.

The open plains will be painted black and grey. I think Maasai Mara in its current state is more than ready for the next wildebeest migration in a few weeks time. Get yourself out there!

Enjoy these photos from the game drives that I did – guided by my friends Amos Kipeen and Harris Taga of Friends of Maasai Mara.

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A herd of topis grazing inside the park – look at the open wilderness with few animals. Soon the wildebeest will arrive to occupy every inch of it.

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Elephant and calf approached us near Mara Sarova, telling us to get out of the way.

 

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Mongoose in their little city – always cautious

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Another herd of elephants ring fenced off their calves – creating an impenetrable wall.

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It is grooming time and expression of love for these impalas near Talek Gate, where the grass is short and safe from predators.

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A crane atop a tree – giving itself a real bird’s view of its surrounding.

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These amazing fellows, Harris Taga and Amos Kipeen know the park like the back of their hands

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And as usual, even with a powerful 4×4 truck, you can get stuck in Maasai Mara. We had that moment and had to be rescued.

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Members of of Friends of Maasai Mara – from left Jully Senteu, Amos Kipeen, Nase Kelel, Harris Taga and Sintoyia Sengeny enjoying the morning sunshine after breakfast in the park.