Loita: The Forest of the Lost Child

DSC_3072.JPGOn top of my bucket list this year were Oldoinyo Lengai and Loita Forest (Entim Enaimina Enkiyio).

Oldoinyo Lengai hike took place in April and is probably the most dramatic adventure so far. I hold it dear because of the spiritual connection of my late paternal grandmother, Nembulung.

With a team of fellows from The Amani Institute, we trekked through Loita Forest a few days ago. This forest occupies a special place in Maasai mythology. Its real name is Entim Enaimina Enkiyio (The Forest of the Lost Child). In my generation, it signifies a conservation morality and consciousness that for generations has guarded it against any form of encroachment.

Legend has it that a young girl was tending her father’s calves at the edge of the forest. When some calves strayed into the forest and she followed to retrieve them but the forest never gave her back – hence the name, Forest of the Lost Child.

We arrived at Morijo, Loita on a late Friday evening – a bruising 265km drive – the road was very rough after the diversion from the Maasai Mara highway at Ewuaso Ngiro town. It was dark and hardly saw much but listened to grind of tires against gravel. It can get disorienting and made the distance seem much longer.

Our host James Sumpati, a veteran mountain guide who made our stay an experience with long lasting memories, received us at the camp that he set up near his home at Miton.

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Amani Fellows from various countries in Loita Forest

We set off in the morning into the forest – greeted by the joyful call of the turacco, flapping their green and purple wings as they run up branches in the canopy. The colobus money barked – invisibly. Fresh buffalo dung and spoor led us deep into the forest.

We hoped and prayed to see the elephants but they remained phantoms in the shadows but left their dung for us to wonder.

The air is fresh and cool as we walked, trudging on the undergrowth. Some trees here are huge, very huge and as old as 200 years or more. The forest, which covers 302 square kilometres is one of the few non-gazetted trust land containing indigenous forests in Kenya. The plains for Maasai Mara straddle the west and the Great Rift Valley to the east. Lake Magadi and Ngurman Escarpment in the Southeast. This place is jealously guarded by the community here and it remains largely undisturbed. It is the source of water, pasture, medicine and pride to the Loita Maasai.

But this is a forest where the community has to stand guard every minute against encroachment – both from some community members who think they can over exploit it or from outsiders who salivate at the possibility of getting a piece of it for personal gain.

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Oloiboni Mokombo Senteu and his son: At the forefront of protecting the forest

In our conversation with James and members of the community, the word “conservation” by NGOs is considered a dirty word and some international organisations have been chased away from the forest for the community sees no value in their conservation models.

“My grandfather Olonana (Lenana) gave away Nairobi and Oloolaiser (Ngong) forests to the British, I will never allow anyone to take Enaimina Enkiyo,” Laibon Mokombo ole Senteu told as we sat in his house on our last day in Loita.

May Loita Forest live forever!

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!

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

Lost for Words at Orbatatata Gorge

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-26 at 6.59.34 PM.jpegThe name is Orbatatata! It is a tongue twister even to native speakers. It is a beautiful gorge and here, I am trying to describe the indescribable – its display crushed my comprehension. I looked. I gasped. I shuddered with awe.

Orbatatata gorge means “The Massive Fall” in Maa language –  a hidden gem that starts from the southern periphery of Hell’s Gate National Park – a massive canyon that opens its face to the direction of Mt. Suswa – 10KM from Suswa Town.

I came here at the invitation of a friend, Eric ole Reson, a raptor conservationist who grew up here and I tagged along two other friends, Nase Kelel and Josephine Kindi (the manager of Suswa Conservancy.)

The road from Suswa Town at entrance of MaraGateway Hotel is not pretty – it needs a 4 x 4 truck. We drove past sleepy villages –  a beautiful country of happy cows and people.

You won’t see the canyon until you arrive at the base, then, it suddenly opens up like a beautiful flower. We stood next to each other in silence, basking in the glory of our surroundings.

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We stood next to each other in silence, basking in the glory of our surroundings.

This gorge, to all of us here brings a mixture of emotions not just because of it is a marvel but it is the route that our forefathers used as a safe escape during the massive relocation after the expropriation of their land in Laikipia by colonialists from 1911. Thousands of Maasai children, women and the elderly died during the trek to the south – mostly from diseases. Our forefathers walked on this canyon and I looked at the massive cliffs, the sand on the riverbed and imagined their footsteps and sadness.

This gorge is also the source of the famous red ochre, which has decorated generations of Maasai warriors and women. It houses many caves like Enkapune Olpelesi that have housed past men of the warrior class as they partook herbs, beef and prepared for wars.

Its massive cliffs are home to dozens of endangered ruppel vultures and eagle nests. These raptors fly out here to Maasai Mara every morning to feed and return in the evening. The whole valley is actually a bird’s paradise. It also has a famous well, Paepayan – with its favoured sweet coloured water.

Another major feature is Kaibartani a massive rock in the middle of the canyon that the Maa believe was a bride that turned into a rock after ignoring advice by looking back to where she came from instead of following her husband.

Enjoy the photos of our hike and I hope you will be motivated to visit.

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We descended into the gorge from Olorriri village. 
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How do you describe this view? The high cliffs resemble pyramids.

DSC_7151.JPGShoes off as hikers walked on the soft, wet sand.

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Eric Reson, our guide and raptor conservationists.
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Walking on the footsteps of his forefathers. 
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Steam spewing from fissures in many places in the gorge. 
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Cliffs, caves, nests for vultures and eagles are part of the landscape.
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It is the wild fruit and berry season.
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Red ochre boiling on a hot spring.
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Kaibartani, a landmark feature on the valley.
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The sweet coloured waters of Paepayan well.

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The southern end of the gorge facing Mt. Suswa.
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The hikers. Mission accomplished!

 

Young Kenyans Seeking Adventure, Freedom in Nature

As the old saying goes, “A wise traveler must never despise his own country.”

So this WhatsApp Image 2018-05-22 at 17.06.38-2Sunday, I took my spiritual warfare to Ngong Hills. I consider this place in my home County (Kajiado) as one of the most beautiful mountains that I know. And just a quick reminder that the original name is Oldoinyio (Mt) Loolaiserr but the Brits in their arrogance and laziness baptised it Ngong Hills.

My plan was to walk and pray – Sundays rarely disappoint because there are many other prayer warriors on the mountain.

It was chilly but not raining. I arrived at the gate at about 9:00AM – rangers were busy advising and directing groups of hikers. I paid the Sh200 entry fee by M-Pesa and trudged on.

I walked past a broken vehicle a few metres from the entrance and met a group of young people taking selfies. They were excited and I made an effort to walk past them but was quickly invited.

They were from eastern Nairobi – an area that I know little about. They were young too, their first time here – some of them were hiking for the first time in their lives.  It warmed my heart to meet young people who seek adventure and freedom in nature. I ended up being their guide for the day.  See some of their images.

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Calling it cold is an understatement! Visibility was not at its best

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The gentleman holding a water bottle performs massage for hikers at the summit for a fee of Sh100. It works magic!

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Celebration on reaching the summit!

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I think this is an iconic image. These are rocks near the Kona Baridi Gate.

Ngong Hills (Oldoinyo Loolaiser) Hike in Photos

This is my fourth climb to Ngong Hills (Oldoinyo Loolaiserr) this year. I hiked with a friend and photographer, Solomon Odupoi. It was a chilly morning, the weather kept fluctuating by the minute. PHOTOS: Odupa Photograpy/Solomon Odupoi

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Foot forward. Ngong Hills is a photographer’s paradise.
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The weather changes by the minute – mist, the sun, cold warm.

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Clean air hits your lungs – fresh, sweet!

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New feature: A mudslide as a result of recent rains.
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There were quite a number of international visitors on the trail.
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Chatting with new friends – fellow hikers.
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Teenagers on the trail selling walking sticks. They were respectful and kind.

 

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The Ngong Wind power turbines occupies the east side of the mountain.

The Beauty & the Beast of Ngong Hills & its Strange Name

Nongo 1IMG-20180125-WA0067Among the many tragic mistakes of the British colony and later the Kenyan republic is allowing human settlement between Nairobi National Park and Ngong Hills.

Atop Ngong Hills, you will notice the blight of humanity – the tin roofs and ugliness of Kiserian and Ongata Rongai towns. The unplanned towns are growing by the day, literally choking the two pristine areas – the park being ringed by quarter-of-an-acre plot investors and the mountain heading into that predicament shortly. Paradise is under siege.

Anyway, let me climb this mountain but let me start with its name. Ngong Hills is a strange name with no meaning. The real name is Oldoinyio Loolaiserr or Mt. Oloolaiserr. The Maa people named it after its Laiserr clan.

The name Ngong came from an original name of a spring in the area called Engong’u Enchorro Emuny (Source [Eye] of the Rhino Spring). The Brits who “discovered” and renamed it, in their “wisdom” called it “Ngong.”

There are still a few names that have remained to remind us of the true roots of the area – Oloolaiserr High School and PCEA Enchorro Emuny.

We arrived at the entrance of the climb just past Ngong town at 8AM – there is no barrier but a small building for the Kenya Forestry Service and a parking area. There was no one at the office so we decided to ascend and hopefully pay our entrance fee at the exit.

A few meters from the entrance, you will be ushered in by windmills run by KenGen – it harvests wind energy and connects to the country’s national power grid. It is not a pretty site but development does have costs and sacrifices. The Mountain has seven hills (peaks) that stretch from here to Kona Baridi in Kiserian – 11Kms.

We hit the first two peaks – quick and easy, may be motivated to put the windmills behind us.

The walking trail is a well-beaten path and very visible. It stretches forward from peak to peak and rarely diverts. The peaks are steep but give you a relief with about 100-200 metres before the next climb. In their usual character of urban Kenya, hikers have left behind plastic water containers and other ugly things.

930A5027The views are undoubtedly magnificent – the mix of forests and open areas give this mountain character. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind blows freshness to your face.

There are quite a number of wildlife species here – buffalo spoor crossed our path several times. Monkeys and small antelopes can be seen.  It is definitely birds’ paradise too!

As we approached the highest peace at 2,460 metres (8,071ft) above sea level, there was pandemonium on the valley facing Olosho Oibor – monkey noises – it started with a few then the whole valley was awash with echoes of unhappy primates. Then I heard a grunt – the unmistakable rumble of a leopard. It must have been trying to stalk but was discovered by the clever eye of the monkeys. A ranger would later tell me that there are many leopards in the mountain.

As we descended towards Kona Baridi, Kiserian area, we found young Maasai men herding goats and sheep. The area looks overgrazed. Soil erosion from the train is becoming a problem but not being controlled.

We reached the exit gate, but, again, there was no attendant. We walked on for lunch at Lesolio Restaurant with the hope of returning to the mountain and make it 22Km but it started to rain.

We rode a motorbike to Kiserian town, a matatu to Ngong and picked up our vehicle. We met an anxious ranger who has been wondering about the occupants of the vehicle that was left before they arrived. He had actually asked rangers to be on the lookout for us. We paid the Sh200 a person fee and head out.

To paraphrase Donald Miller, “This mountain which has seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.”

And that was Oldoinyio Loolaiserr!

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist, nature enthusiast and current Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.