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.
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.
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.
One 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.
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.
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.
What 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.
As the old saying goes, “A wise traveler must never despise his own country.”
So this Sunday, 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.
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
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.
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!
I 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.
The 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.
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.
I 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.
This 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.
You 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.
They call it the Elephant Hill, part of the 70km Aberdare Ranges, but I could not see the elephant in the shape of the mountain. That’s just how my mind works – abstract art is not my thing.
The sky was clear – blue, the sun smiling at mother earth. The mountain sat calmly, waiting and unmoved by the anxieties of hikers who make an effort to conquer it. There were a lot of hikers as we arrived at Njabini Forest Station, one of the many climbing routes for the Aberdare Ranges.
I am in the company of two elite hikers (Jim and Herdsgirl) who wanted to do the hike under 6 hours as a warm-up for a climb to Mt Kenya next week (they will do it in 24 hours instead of the usual four days). I did not fancy their chitchat while on our drive from Nairobi (90km) – about how “normal” humans crumple once they hit 3000m above sea level blah blah blah! I am a rookie hiker, a child of the desert and dry country with little knowledge about altitude, forests, and high mountains but they kept on rubbing it.
Njabini Forest Station is not an organized place – hikers and vehicles were everywhere. No reception area but a small mabati office at the back of some house. We found a guide, Jackson – short, calm and with an interesting accent and I had to keenly listen and figure out whether he was saying “air or hair.”
The first 5kms were easy – wide path and excited hikers who still had the energy to chat and greet fellow travelers. Our guide met one of his TV stars and excitedly greeted her – big eyes, very pretty face. He later explained that she comes on TV screens twice a week. I have not watched TV in three years, so I zoned out and led us through the forest. It is a mix of forest plantation with controlled farming.
We reached the bamboo forest – it was cool and the path became narrow, leaves scratching rucksacks. We met a big group of hikers and briskly walked past them and someone commented: “Team Subaru is passing.” The path suddenly turned to the left and we found another group seated, resting, some were having breakfast.
This is the beginning of a very sharp climb. It is treacherous – dry leaves on the ground made it slippery. We were under the canopy of the bamboo trees with filtered light coming through as we trudged on the steep path. It is dry – our lucky day, Jim and the guide seem to agree. The path would have been terrible if it was raining. Tough, tough walk and we found several hikers, sitting by the trail, almost giving up, some were already on their way back – given up!
I kept on plodding up – sweating buckets – heavily breathing but the cool of the forests brings relief whenever the body wants to overheat. Jim followed – the calmly placing his feet on the ground, moderate but consistent speed of an experienced man. Herdsgirl fell back, walking rather slowly while chatting with the guide. Every hiker knows how to take care of their vehicle/body.
I got to know a few things about Jim – he is more of a runner of marathons but one day he decided to climb Mt. Meru (Tanzania) after meeting hikers in a pub. He bought gear and by morning he was on the trail. He conquered Mt. Ruwenzori after that and got lost in the glacier for three hours. We would late joke about the irony of him nearly getting killed by ice on the first day he encountered real ice apart from the one he has been seeing on his fridge.
The steep climb suddenly leveled up as the bamboo forest thinned out, getting us to the alpine zone, a new kind of vegetation. It is beautiful, a stunning array of outlandish flora, a real feast for botany enthusiasts. I yelled with excitement!
We were at the first peak, the elephant ramp (I rolled my eyes), also known as The Point of Despair.
Why has God stopped making more of such stuff? Below are amazing views of the countryside – Sasumua dam to the right and Ndakaine dams at a distance on the left. Aberdare Ranges is the source of 95% of the water that is consumed in Nairobi. It is also the source of Athi and Tana Rivers.
It is at this peak where most hikers give up. And trust me, you will despair! I do not recommend this hike for citizens of the Woyie Republic! It is also the place you will find out that you can do more, push past your limits knowing very well that you will have to come down the route, same distance.
Jim looked at his watch – we have done 1hour 40 minutes. Very good time, he said. In less than two minutes, Herdsgirl and the guide caught up with us and we continued with the climb.
The next climb is rocky but very steep – I looked up and saw several hikers ahead of us – literally at close to 45 degrees elevation. Goodness, how on earth am I going to get there? We trudged on, Jim and I leading interchangeably. Storytelling helped – our families, passions, things of men in their 40s. The trail meandered past gnarled giant Heather trees covered in Spanish moss. I had my first slip, a light fall.
It seemed like an endless walk and I started to wonder about this mountain size-elephant back, but, it mercifully leveled off, giving us the first view of the summit! There are two peaks ahead of us. The sky is still blue, fighting off clouds, emphatically gifting us a beautiful day. We hoped to get a glimpse of Mt. Kenya but it was hidden by clouds.
Then, the wind, strong wind and it is biting cold too. I looked ahead and saw two Caucasian hikers on sleeveless shirts trudging on as if the wind did not matter. Well, maybe they are made of something else.
We walked on, fighting off the wind and approached the summit, the elephant head. It is a beautiful place, the world under our feet at 3625m above sea level!
Jim glanced at his watch – we have done it in three hours, excellent time. We opened our lunch packs as I listened to the elite hikers’ exploits of great mountains but my mind was constantly on the densely populated countryside below that stretched all the way to Lake Naivasha. Mt. Longonot (Oloonongót) stood blue and misty from afar. This was once the land of my ancestors, the land the British stole, then changed hands after independence. Kinopop and Mt. Satima is what we called you, but, now they call you Kinangop and Aberdare.
It is time to descend and we must do it under three hours. It is cold and the wind is brutal, beating our faces, freezing my fingers. Herdsgirl led the descend, walking fast and strong. Half the journey was done and the morale is high.
Going down the rocky area is a true test of one’s knees – drop, drop and drop! It will wear down your springs and shock absorbers. It will test the all the grease in your joints from the neck to your feet.
I slipped and went down. Fall # 2 and was quickly followed by Herdsgirl. No injuries. The ever-cautious Jim stayed intact – careful, slow and consistent on the trail.
We reached the bamboo forest and just like the insane steep climb, going down is just as challenging. I slipped again and went flat down on my back. Lying on my back kind of felt nice, a relief for my feet and was tempted to just stay there and refuse to get up.
We met many of the hikers that we passed in the morning, some still trying to make their way up but most were on their way down having given up at the Point of Despair.
I walked ahead of the group, praying and talking to God – marveling at what he has created, praying for grace and healing for my family as they bury a loved one. Funerals of family members kill my spirit. Grief breaks my inner core and I don’t know how to handle it and that is the reason I am far away from home this Saturday.
We arrived at the end, rather where we began at 1600hrs. We have done the 20Km trail in 5hrs 21 minutes. I think they are ready for Mt. Kenya.
As I walked towards the office for payment, Jim called me.
“Let’s take a few minutes to stretch,” he said as they put their rucksacks on the grass.
I was a little confused. I was tired too.
“Stretch what?” I asked as I put my bag down, my sore body on the grass. “I am doing no stretching. I have been stretched enough in the last five hours.” It felt nice to just lay down and ignore them.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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
Among 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.
The 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.”