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

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.

Engare Sero Waterfalls: A Walk in True Paradise

930A7576After being battered by Oldoinyo (Mt.) Lenkai, drowning a few drinks and lots of goat meat last evening, we needed a bit of nudging to go anywhere but rest.

The muscles were sore but our guide and host Lemurra ole Kingi had a better idea – a 45-minute walk along Engare Sero River Gorge to the natural swimming pools.

The trail was close to Worldview Campsite where we stayed, the river emanates from a gorge of the Great Rift Valley. I heard its waters rumbling last night but did not give it much thought.

930A7595As the guide led us forward and the gorge came into view, my first reaction was a mental picture of those beautiful images we see on calendars – cascading wild valleys, spectacular scenery. We got into the shallow water, walked along the river before crossing it several times – getting wet, clambering just a little, to arrive at this cool oasis.

The walk was great for relaxing the sore muscle but when I saw the waterfalls, I knew, this is the place to heal from yesterday’s hardship. It is an unforgettable experience, a show stopper.

930A7722The water gushes out of the high cliffs to the right as well as from the river flow. It is warm and there was no one else present but the six of us. The best part is we could lie down on the rocks and let the land on our sore backs and legs – a natural massage, taking away the pain of mountain climbing. It brought both emotional and physical relief.

The downside of this paradise, we all realised is that we couldn’t take photos because the water could spoil cameras or phones but somehow the guide managed to sneak in my camera wrapped in two shukas. Lemurra’s commitment to his clients goes beyond the call of duty.

As we left the pools, what we all knew that we will come back some other day. It is a perfect holiday destination especially for families with children. This was a worthwhile adventure

Engare Sero River flows into Lake Natron, one of the most alkaline lakes in the world – a home to millions of crustaceans and a heaven for thousands of lesser flamingos.
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Jumped Over by an Eland, Shrinking of Rangelands

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An eland leaps over a safari jeep in Maasai Mara. Photo: Eric Nixon

The Eland (Taurotragus oryx), Africa’s largest antelope, is one of my favourite souls on earth. It is quite an eye-opener when you first see it. The size hits you straight away and the beauty, outstanding.

A few months ago while driving in the evening along Kiserian-Isinya Road, an eland jumped over our Land Rover. It came out of the bushes with speed, I hit the brakes and steadied for impact but the massive bull rose up and dropped on the other side and continued trotting.

My son, Mayian and I were left in shock. My 12-year old daughter, Timpi, who sat at the back did not even see what happened. My foot was still on breaks – shaking!

Over the months, every time I see an eland, I remembered that incident and last month, a friend from South Africa showed me photos from Maasai Mara of an eland jumping over a safari jeep with lions in pursuit. It got away but left tourists in awe.

My people’s traditions talk of the power of the Eland – it is known to overpower lions, most times injuring them by leaping through and above trees, leaving the predators hanging up there and sometimes killing them in the process.

Before the entrance of modern ropes, the Eland hide was a valuable product. For those who eat wild meat, the Eland has soft, tasty meat.

I did some research and watched a few videos of lion attempts on Elands and latter most times came out the winner, dancing away powerfully, throwing the lions in its wake.

Elands are capable of jumping up to 3 metres from a standing start when startled and can live up to a good 15-20 years. A grown male can stand at 1.6 metres, a weight of 940kgs and females weigh about 600kgs with a height of 1.4 metres. It can run at a max speed for 40kph but can run for a long time at half that speed, thus, making it impossible for predators to keep up.

The last census showed that there are about 136,000 elands in East Africa – mostly Kajiado, Narok, and Laikipia as well as northern Tanzania.

It is a healthy population but these territories are shrinking especially with the continued fencing of ranches in Narok and more so by the wanton destruction of the rangelands by the dreadful act of cutting acacia for charcoal in Kajiado County.

13717337_1317031798321946_6407943454709378548_oHere are links to videos of Eland vs Lions:

Female Eland too Powerful For Lion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0D8g7npbRWE

Lion Hunt Eland at Lewa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7skjfDSWVs

Maasai Mara: Lion vs Bull Eland Encounter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKpuibzPuz4

Eland Bulls – Massive Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbt6128kpV8

Olorgesailie: Someone Was Here; Lots of Things Happened Here

The last days of February were marked by a heat wave and Kenyans finally had a feel of the stuff they have been hearing from foreign news. Then, rain…lots of rain! Thank you, Climate Change!

930A6433I packed my bags for Olorgesailie. Yes, that place that we all read about in history books. The place where they dug out things old, bones of departed beings – what my people call “aturu irmeneng’a.

Scientists refer to it as the world’s largest factory of stone-age tools that dates up to 990,000 years. It is the place that has excellently preserved biological and cultural evidence about the evolution of man and National Museums of Kenya is helping to move this forward to the future generations.

Shame, that I have never visited it even though it is just 65km from Nairobi and right in the middle of my home county along Magadi Road.

I drove in the evening and set up camp – it is a nice place surrounded by acacia trees. It is quiet too with only one family camping. There are a few bandas and they looked good…well maintained. It seems like it will rain tonight so I pitched the tent at an elevated area.

An elderly Maasai lady sold me firewood for Sh700…she is about my mother’s age – had a little chit-chat about that and her family.

“God knows how to feed his people,” she remarked as the M-Pesa payment message reached her phone. I guessed she had a long day and I might be her only customer today. Another one tried to sell beads but I was not interested.

Tent Affair 930A6320The night did not go well as I expected – the rain started at around 9pm and the cheap Weekender tent that I bought at Carrefour Supermarket in Nairobi did not handle it well. It started leaking from the joints. In order to make it cheaper (Sh2400) the manufacture excluded the canopy that wards off rainwater and also failed to inform its customers that it is basically a summer tent – not waterproof.

It will be a long wet night with water dripping at the corners and me in the middle. I sent a text to the mountain guide to cancel tomorrow’s hike to Mt. Olorgesalie. It stopped raining at about 3:00AM and I slept.

I went to the museum at about 10:00AM. It is a small room with specimens of our ancestors and extinct animals neatly displayed.

The Excavation Site is right behind the museum and it takes about an hour to walk through it. It is a basically a little safari walk of tools that were used by extinct species. The tools are kept under sheds with iron roofing – it kind of reminds me of a dairy cowshed.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-06 at 22.34.32 (1)I stood at every shed and observed the tools in different sizes and shapes. They are crude and one would need a lot of effort to cut anything with them but again that was another era and they were considered cutting-edge technology.

The place made feel like something was here – a community once thrived here. I could feel their spirits and existence through their work.

930A6504I also wondered about the white dude, British Geologist John Walter Gregory who in his craziness and wander stumbled upon the first tools in 1919. I read more about him later – he was a freaking racist. This is also the place where Mary and Loius Leakey discovered more human remains and tools in 1943. Many scientists later found more stuff and I am sure more will be found in the future.

930A6516This area was once a lake with fish, lots of human and wildlife activity around it. But it dried up as a result of volcanic eruption and deposits from Mounts Suswa and Longonot. Subsequent sedimentation covering the site has preserved the fossils.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-06 at 22.34.27You can see and feel how this place was formed by observing the soils – the various layers sometimes in beautiful colours of alkaline deposits.

And the birds of Olorgesalie sung in their numbers and sounds. Dark giraffes fed on trees from a distance as I walked away to another destination. I will return to climb this mountain when good weather returns.

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** John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and wildlife enthusiast. He is the current board chair of Friends of Maasai Mara. You can read more about his travels at www.naloolo.wordpress.com

Lentorre: The Hike of a Super Warrior

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After sleeping off a 23Km hike on Kwenia Cliffs, the plan was to laze around the swimming pool at the Magadi Sports Club, but, by morning, the place looked small and stifling hot, so we headed out to higher ground – facing Nkurman Escarpment.

Everyone has their favourite destination – a place that elevates the spirit. Lentorre Lodge is that place for me. It is a rare gem, perched on the escarpment, overlooking the vast Orkiramatian-Shompole conservation area. From here you could see Mt. Shompole as well as Oldoinyo Lenkai and Gilai in Tanzania.

My interest here is to see the lodge after the departure of my friend, Peter ole Kiyiaa, a gold star tour guide and Ole Kuyo, a man that I highly respect for his knowledge of all things in the wild.

Ole Kuyo is a special kind of man. He has never stepped into a formal classroom but he can tell you every animal and plant species botanical, English and Maa names. My connection with him is his amazing hiking skills. He is skinny, strong and fast.

It is a 30Km drive from Magadi to Lentorre – the road is passable but I advise a 4 x 4. We pulled up to the reception area to the surprise of another friend who is now the lodge manager, Leonard ole Ndungu – small world!

Leonard gave us a tour of the lodge – there a few renovations being done. They are also building a tunnel that will give visitors an up-close encounter with wildlife at the waterhole. The rooms are spectacular, each with its mini swimming pool.

Lunch!

“Are you ready for the hills?” Ole Kuyo asked with a mischievous smile as he sized up my hiking companion.

We are ready! He handed long walking sticks to each of us. Water in the backpacks!

“The hike is for the strong,” he said as if to warn my hiking partner – “Elototo ormurran.”

It is a 4km hike – very steep hill, one of the many pieces of this massive escarpment. We must do this in an hour.

We paced up, following Kuyo, a rungu under his left armpit and a water bottle on the other. Oh, these thin legs and Bata Safari boots!

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It is fast and I started panting within the fast 200 metres. We are still catching up on news about each other – what we have been up to since the last hike, the kids, cattle and of course the deadly drought. I enquired about of his daughter who was attacked by a honey badger last year. She has healed.

We reached the halfway mark – all sweating and the man kept walking, his earlobes dangling and no sweat. I and Herdsgirl are sweating bucket, panting, but, keeping up.

There was a commotion up the hill – hooves, rocks falling. Something is running. We stopped. Ole Kuyo tilted his head, listening keenly as the invisible creatures ran away from us, hidden by the acacia forest.

“Zebras,” he said.

“Not buffalo?” I asked.

“No. Zebras are lighter when they step on the ground,” he responded.

It was a relief to have stopped – to gasp some air.

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We resumed the climb, meandering around the trees – reaching the summit from a very steep bend. Mt. Shompole smiled at us as it calmy sit at the base of Lake Natron. We could see as far as Lake Magadi and the smoky hills towards Kajiado Central.

We spent a few minutes at the summit – conversing and appreciating the spectacular views. The path downwards was sharp, loose rocks and we were almost trotting as he explained the different types of Acacia species.

“There are 45 of them after scientists removed 4 from the list,” Ole Kuyo explained. He said a few difficult botanical names – I remember none. I have never cared for botanical names since high school.

We came across a zebra skull. Ole Kuyo picked it up – looked at it keenly, the same tilting of the head to the right.

“It is a male zebra,” he said. “What is the difference from the female?” I asked gladly catching up with my breath.

“Males have an extra set of teeth. They use it to bite during fights with others,” he responded.

We hooved on…still fast but careful as the rocks are slippery and arrived back at the lodge under an hour to the surprise of Leonard and his team.

Oh, this glorious cup of tea is just what I needed.

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A view of Lentorre Lodge from the summit.

There are new arrivals at the lodge – local rangers tracking a lion that is on the move from Amboseli and has just arrived in this area. The lion is such a nomad. It was collared with a tracking device in Samburu and transported to Tsavo National Park but it found its way to Amboseli and now traveled over 300KM to here.

“Maybe it is trying to get its way home,” one of the guys commented.

This area has about 65 lions that are jealously guarded by the community. I believe the nomadic lion has come to the right place.

It is time to return to Nairobi. I handed over a small shopping bag for his wife – 2kgs of sugar, tea leaves, packets of milk and biscuits for the kids.

“Pass my regards to your wife, “I said.

“I have two wives,” he said and we had a good laugh over my mistake and him having to sort out the mess of taking one shopping bag home.

You can contact Lentorre Lodge on Telephone: +254 (0) 723 317553

Email: reservations@lentorre.com

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Awesome – every room at Lentorre has a swimming pool.

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.