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.

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

Kijululo Valley: The Hidden Jewel in Kajiado County

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Facing Kijululo Valley

There are beautiful and places on earth and I have seen some. But there are also stunning places – places that would make you question reality and stuff that mother earth is made of. Kijululo Valley on Lorruka Hills, Kajiado west, is such a place.

I didn’t know it existed until I saw it.  I was both surprised and awed. We were approaching the summit of Lorruka Hills – not an easy climb and our focus was the summit, get some rest before figuring out how to descend. Then on the right, the mountain suddenly folded it shoulders, displaying a deep valley. I first thought it was a crater but no…it stretched down making a seasonal river that drains its juices to the lowlands.

IMG-20180202-WA0011The Maa people call it Kijululo because it literally means that – “the hanging one.” From the top, it is truly beautiful, with vegetation and rugged rock formations. My first reaction was how to get down into the valley but my tired legs quickly reminded me that I will have to find a way back on a 60-degree climb. I resigned my energy to admiring the place by dangling my legs on the cliff – enjoyed the breeze and the expansive country that stretched towards Mount Suswa. This is the moment that every follower of Jesus Christ sings the song “This is the day that the Lord has made…”

We left for the summit but I must return some day to go down to the belly of this mountain. I want to feel the warmth of Kijululo.

We started this hike with a little controversy: The name. Some write it as Lorruka, others Loorruga or Oloorruga. It’s a matter of phonetics depending on your Maasai dialect or which part of the Maa nation you come from. The controversy is the difference in the pronunciation of “ka” and “ga”. Locals here write it as Loorruka.

I have probably driven past this mountain many times on my way to Magadi or other fancy places. The thought of climbing Lorruka came to mind when my hiking partner enquired about it as we drove past. The little that I knew was that it was part of Enkusero Sambu Conservancy – managed by a friend, Paul Kilelu.

We called him and planned to visit the following week.

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A view of Loorruka Hills from Magadi Road

We picked up a guide from a junction just past Olepolos Resort but before you reached Oltinga centre on Magadi Road. We turned right towards the mountain. There are a number of villages and a school along the way. The area is dry, rugged – volcanic formations and acacia trees.

The mountain is long and soft from a distance, but from my experience, mountains and hills of the Rift Valley are deceptive. They are multilayered, rough and unforgiving. They smile but slap you at the same time.

930A5376We were five hikers and two rangers from the conservancy. As we got ready to hit the trail, I looked around and started worrying if all of us will make it to the summit.

I looked at the mountain again, as if to ask it to be gentle on us – just for today. Let it not mute the zeal of those who made an effort to visit.

We had our first casualty in the first 500M. It was very steep, loose rocks and the sun did not help. The 20-year old lady did not take it kindly and decided to give up the fight. We left her with one ranger to make a decision whether to return to the vehicle or stay cool under some tree. She later made it to the summit with a lot of energy and surprisingly led the troop down on our return.

The mountain has a lot of peaks. The hiking trail is still not well developed and one needs to be ready to walk through the thorny bushes. Reaching the top of the first hill gives you amazing views and features of the different parts of the mountain. It will also give you an option to go straight to the summit which is short but steep or take a longer route that takes time but exposes you to more beautiful views.

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Esoit Pus sitting at the base of Lorruka Hills

We took the longer route, turning east towards a massive outcrop of Esoit Pus (the Blue Rock). It looks impenetrable, sitting at the base of the mountain. We made an effort to climb it and spooked a huge stripped hyena that has made it home. It bolted away towards the valley.

Further east we could see Enkusero Sambu settlement with its overgrazed neighbourhood with red soil and a school. Below, in every direction, are V-shaped valleys. Ngong Hills (Oldoinyo Loolaiserr) cropped up from the horizon, dark and long from the east. Mt. Loorgesaile occupied the Southern horizon. The rock hyrax and other antelopes made noises, warning of our presence. Falcons and hawks danced in the sky. Not a lot of livestock here but cowbells could be heard from a distance.

930A5219Enkusero Sambu Conservancy is notorious for its leopards – known for their appetite for livestock. There are a few lions here but the numbers have been dwindling due to the conflict with livestock owners.

Approaching the summit from the east gives you the privilege and the surprise of walking along the rim of Kijululo Valley. Facing west is a famous tree where the Maa people carry out sacrifices in times of crisis – asking Enkai to intervene by giving rain. A little to the south of the steep valleys is the source of the whitest fluorspar (Enturoto) that is extracted for various rites of passage ceremonies for generations past.

It was time to descend and the hikers looked motivated. The young lady who almost gave up in the morning looks strong and had created a bond with the rangers. I looked down the valley and brazed for the trot because it is near impossible to go down very slowly. I also figured out that the rangers grew up here – they can climb and descend from any angle like the rock hyrax – they know the terrain but not necessarily trained as guides for inexperienced hikers.

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All hikers made it to the summit!

Our next stop on our way down is a cave where Maa warriors use as a meat camp – a place to strengthen muscle, bond, and retreat from noise. The drop to the cave was steep and through thorny bushes but the hikers held their fort.  The cave has a well that is fed by rain but hidden from evaporation by its walls. There are generational footprints from years gone marked by the red ochre on the walls. The trees too have marks that told us of those who were here before us – the warriors made marks that showed how long they lived in the cave.

The hike was 8.5kms but it could get much longer depending on one’s starting point.

We arrive at the vehicle to the glory of tea and chapatti made by our gracious host!

That was Enkusero Sambu Conservancy and Kijululo Valley!

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.

Kwenia Hike: Cliffs and Vultures Paradise

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Months ago, a friend, John Saitoti, cajoled me to join a quick drive to Magadi and that is how I discovered Kwenia – a place of massive cliffs and intimidating valleys, 95Km south of Nairobi.

It looked like the Australia that I had seen in the movies or the US wild west, but, the cowboys here are my people, the Maasai. We had a simple to load up some emaciated cows onto a truck and move them to a new location.

As we departed, I looked back at the massive cliffs that stretched as long as the eye could see and vowed to return, toying with the idea of conquering them with me two feet.

I returned to Kwenia this week, accompanied by an experienced hiker by the name Herdsgirl. She has climbed mountains including Kilimanjaro, Kenya, and Simien in Ethiopia.

We pulled up at Saitoti’s homestead at 11:30am only to find it deserted – the nomad has moved, but the place is intact, well fenced with acacia thorns. We opened the gate and parked the vehicle inside the cattle kraal and left towards the cliffs at 12pm.

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Kwenia Cliffs, the home of Vultures

I stood at the base of the cliff and never in my life felt so small. The wall is tall – vultures and falcons flew around it. Kwenia cliffs host the largest colony of the endangered Ruppell’s vultures in East and Central Africa. There are 125 nests here and scientists have warned that the species is just one step away from extinction. I will explain later.

There is a pond where livestock and wildlife drink and it is also the beginning of some seasonal river. A herd of elands stood under the trees about 50 meters away – I clicked the Canon and the ever alert antelopes responded to the shatter of the lens and trotted away.

There is an official hiking trail but we do not know the exact starting point, so, we decided to climb from where we were. We turned slightly to the east and started to ascend away from the massive cliff. It is a rough terrain with loose volcanic rocks covered with acacia and shrubs.

We picked up the pace, with a mix of apprehension and excitement – what does this hike entail? How would it look up there? Can we survive the 23Km (7-hour walk) in this scorching sun?

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It took an hour to get to the top of the hill and started walking towards the rim of the cliffs. The Herdsgirl is holding her forte – careful, measured in her steps, skillfully testing the stability of rocks before stepping on them, conserving energy. I led the way, sometimes carelessly jumping from one rock to another – lighter and alert. Climbing hills is stuff I learned from an early age while herding other things – goats, cattle or hunting or extracting stuff from caves and other natural hideouts.

It seems the seasonal river below the cliff is an extension of another one above. We stood on the rim – the view is breathtaking. The seasonal Lake Kwenia is dusty with livestock raising plumes in their wake. Right below us, goats drunk water from the pond – the boys were taking a bath unaware of our presence, even though we might look like specks perched on the rim. Further West is Mt. Olorgesailie (correct spelling: Oloorkisalie) and a new ranch owned by Pakistanis who grow crops and rear livestock.

We head out facing South, looking for a place to climb out of the river bed. The rocks are blue, smooth and hard – slippery too. Once out of the riverbed, the terrain went back to the volcanic rocks, in plenty, like they were rained down by the heavens. Rocks and acacia trees are now our currency. We hoofed on!

We can make this easy by walking East until we find the official path but we chose not to but rather plowed through the bush, staying close to the rim to get a closer glimpse of raptors gliding and the fleeting landscapes below.

We walked for another three hours, with occasional breathers at the rim of the escarpment whose end is not in site. At times it meanders, giving a false hint that it will end, only for another longer wall to appear. The rocks below our feet are still in plenty – blessing our toes, the thorns challenging the soles of shoes.

Baboons and monkeys are in plenty. We came across the Monkey Chair several times. It is a plant, Pyrenacantha malvifolia – a rare species of desert flowering plants. It is not a very pretty site. It grows above the ground swollen and thickened with a diameter up to 1.5 metres. It has vine-like stems with green round shaped leaves. I don’t know if Monkeys make a chair of it but it is a useful to thirsty herds boys who cut it to draw water during tough times.

It is a birds’ paradise here – flowering season and they are happily chirping away in their colors and sounds. There is an occasional cowbell. We met one young man herding goats – we asked if we are going towards the right direction. He was kind but looked surprised with two backpackers just appearing on him – our common language helped. We still have a long way to go, he warned.

That was a red flag. We must pick up the pace if we have to make back to the vehicle before sunset. The Herdsgirl led, pushing hard against an unforgiving sun, buckets of sweat and occasionally sipping water from the backpack. Lucozade and apples helped to boost up our energies – it gave me this sugar rush and kind of got chatty but she preferred silence, maybe to conserve her energy.

We would need to descend when the cliffs get shorter and eventually end. The descend should lead us to a friend’s home where we can have a cup of tea before making a return to the vehicle and this means walking below the cliffs so that I can photograph the vulture nests.

We trudged on. Herdsgirl is running out of drinking water. I glanced at the sun and estimated that we have another two hours before sunset. Not good at all. The thorny bushes occasionally biting, blocking a straight path, fatigue is setting in.

I saw a boma down below as the cliff started showing signs of relenting…gently lowering its massive shoulders towards mother earth. The boma that I see does not fit the description of the one that I was told by a local guide. I was getting anxious for a descend because I estimated that the drop itself will take more than an hour.

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Brutal Descend. Drop! Drop! Drop!

We made a decision to descend and not go to the end of the cliff. If we find a path that goes down, we will take it. We walked carefully along the rim, hoping to find a way out.

We found a narrow path between rocks – looks like one used by goats or baboons to descend. We took it – a huge risk, it could lead to nowhere. It is a steep descend – legs screaming, shoes peeling off parts of their soles. Not a bad first drop. I looked back at the rim of the cliff and smiled, knowing very well that going down is a multi-layered endeavor.

We approached another drop after about 100 metres – we looked down, too steep and no sign of a path. We walked along towards the east and felt good that for the first time in over 5 hours, we are walking in a different direction.

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A bird’s nest

Second drop. Easy. Feet are screaming but adrenaline to go down reigns supreme. We approached the third drop which I thought would be the easiest. It led us down a gentle slope towards the south then suddenly came to a dead end. It seems that a cliff collapsed years ago and dumped massive volcanic boulders on our way. There is thick vegetation too. It does not look safe – the kind of place for the hyena, lion, the leopard, and the python.

The only way down is to plow through the bushes with minimal vision or climb over the massive rocks. We chose the rocks – and every time we jumped from one to another, I watched the spaces between them and got convinced that this is a home of predators. There is no sign of the rock hyrax, nor baboons nor any animal with no appetite for eating another one.

We trudged on as I waited for some roar, some movement, from the owners of this house but none came. I had a plan in place depending on who will show up.

We came to the end of the rocks and we could see flat land, but we must do the last leg which entailed loose rocks. We sat down under a tree – won out. I still have half a litre of water and that was sipped sparingly.

“There are no more drops. There are no more drops,” she celebrated. Yes, there is no more dropping like an eagle from the sky.

We finally stepped on flat land and start our return towards where we began.

The soft soil felt good on below the feet. A beautiful song. A reprieve from the endless knocks by the rocks.

We still have 10Km to walk but on flat land. The sun was smiling, changing colour, mellowing like an elder who has just discovered kindness. I looked at it and was tempted to give it the middle finger.

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Then the breeze came – cool, strong, resisting our pace towards the north. We were tired but we kept the pace in order to get to the vehicle before dark.

The massive columns of the Kwenia cliff stood on our right, gloriously glowing under the setting sun. The light is perfect and I clicked away. The vultures are returning, smoothly gliding to their nests from Maasai Mara where they go every morning to clean up the mess that lions cause. The estimated global population of Ruppell’s vulture is 22,000 and the numbers are rapidly declining due to habitat loss and poisoning by herdsmen. The many empty nests on these cliffs is a testament to their situation.

We reached the vehicle just before sunset and rushed for the water that we left behind. Goodness, it is boiling hot – literally. We had left the windows closed and this is Kwenia, where the sun rules.

We drove to a nearby village and asked for drinking water. The cattle were in the kraal, women were milking and some elders sat against a hut wall – possibly waiting for chai. Kind people they were. The cold water was better than some earthly things.

We arrived at Magadi at around 9pm and checked into the hotel – another blessing from a random call from an old friend, Tulito Turere, who booked us in.

I rested my sore body in bed having conquered Kwenia cliffs with hot springs and a swim in my mind. A story for another day.

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Monkey Chair: Pyrenacantha malvifolia – a rare species

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.

Defying Climate Change: The Turkana – A World of Strong Women

930A3720Late last week, I found myself in Isiolo – woke up early at Bomen Hotel, the sun lazily rising up from the horizon. Maybe I was awakened by the annoying motorcycles – the new disease of urban Africa. I do miss the days when the rooster and the donkey were the natural signals for a new day.

Anyway, I came here to film a project on climate change adaption – whatever this means in simple English. It is basically a way of intelligently saying “how people survive droughts.”

Isiolo is dusty but a fast-growing town. It has a brand new international airport and upcoming hotels in preparation for a monstrous project the government calls LAPSSET – that is expected to open up northern Kenya’s infrastructure through oil pipelines, new highways, and a railway line.

I left town after breakfast, driven by Abdi, another young pastoralist with hands that were specifically made to drive Land Cruisers. My host is Omar, the first Turkana Muslim that I ever met. Our destination is Ngare Mara villages north of Isiolo.

I am a child of the desert and have seen enough droughts and does not need to be told what climate change means.

So, I was cautious when an NGO asked me to find a silver lining in a drought situation. Omar took me to a few farms – most desolate. Crops have dried up due to lack of enough rain. He lamented about how much work he has put into training the nomadic Turkana people to grow crops as an alternative source of income from the dwindling livestock herds.

The further north we drove, the drier it got and it crossed my mind as to why my pastoralist people tend to settle in the worst of places. The sun was blazing, screaming down at us and it is not even 9am.

“God, I hope you put something very valuable under this land. Something like diamonds or oil,” I prayed.

“Everyone is trying their best,” Omar interrupted my thoughts. “The only thing letting us down is the rain.

930A3570Ngare Mara is a small trading centre on the Moyale-Isiolo Highway. We stopped at a home without a fence, house made of mud and reeds with a corrugated iron for the roof.  I got introduced to Paulina Eken, 38, a mother of 9 children. She also takes care of four orphans – children of her dead friends and relatives.

I expected Paulina to start stories about the drought, the lack of schools fees especially in the month of January. She beckoned us to a fenced area at the back of the house and opened the gate. Viola! A vegetable garden! I mean – really healthy kales, onions, and tomatoes.

What the…were the words in my mind. She told me she had stopped buying vegetables about a year ago – a happy woman and confident of surviving the drought after losing all her livestock. She is part of a group of women who have tried to grow the crop in a larger piece of land but the rain was not sufficient. Lucky enough, the NGO had introduced them to various ventures that include table banking and kitchen gardens. Paulina struggles to pay school fees and other bills but at least she is able to feed them.

Next to her is another eccentric lady – Mary Ekeno is straight out of the feminist manual and we had good laugh over many things. She runs a shop that sells Turkana artifacts …stuff that she makes with her own hands and this is helping her put her children through university, high school, and primary schools.  I tried out a wedding headgear and threatened to marry her.

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Getting their hands dirty.

In the nearby Zebra village, a group of women is working hard to better their lives. Here, poor rains ruined their dreams of a bumper harvest but they have just laid down a pipeline that will enable them to irrigate the farm. I found them working on the farm fence – they were sweating, getting their hands dirty.

“Where are the men?” I asked.

“We are the men here. We do everything. We are waiting for no one,” Julieta Ngirisia responded.

I learned that Turkana men kind of don’t fancy farming but rather do the culturally “honourable” thing of looking after livestock. Meanwhile, their women are learning new skills, trying business ventures, paying schools fees, feeding their families and planning for the future.

These women are literally defying climate change. I pay my respect to the Turkana woman!

I guess, my client has a lot of good stories that need to be told.

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.

Nairobi to Addis: Day 7 – It is a Wrap!

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After six days on the road from Nairobi, 1600KM of mostly superb roads, I finally arrived in Addis Ababa on December 26, 2017.

I did not want to celebrate. I did not even want to see the streets. I craved for a good shower, a drink and sleep – just to absorb this high feeling. That feeling was good!

My plan here is simple: Eat, Walk, Read and Sleep. I am not worried about not seeing some museum, some historical place etc. I don’t even have a map.

Addis Ababa, bar the country’s politics, is an embodiment of what is called Africa Rising. Every other building is either new, some road being dug or a new business opening up. The hum of the hammer and chisel is at every street corner. Like a snake, the old city is shedding off old skin. The economy is growing – you can literally smell optimism everywhere.

I am staying at MT Guest House, at the environs of Shalla Park in Bole area. Bole is an upmarket part of Addis – manicured lawns, embassy residences, hotels, and restaurants. You might confuse this place with some parts of London, New York or Los Angeles.

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Commuters leaving the light train station in Addis

I have four days to bury my 2017 demons here, but, first things first; I purchased a return air ticket to Nairobi. I must get back in time for the New Year to be with my family. I took a taxi to Kenya Airways offices at the Hilton Hotel and bought the ticket – just a small hitch that they do not accept the euros that I had. You can only buy or change foreign currency in a bank – there was one in the building.

I left the Hilton Hotel, crossed the street and took a stroll past the UN Complex (a massive building) towards Meskel Square.

Addis is generally a well-planned city with great spaces for public utilities. Traffic moves and when there is congestion, drivers hoot but still respectful.

I was impressed by how much the government has invested in public transportation. I loved the picturesque views of the light train at Meskel Square. The light train launched in 2015, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa transports 200,000 commuters daily – keeping people on the move, reducing congesting on the roads. Other African cities should emulate to solve their nightmares of public transport.

Ethiopians are hospitable people – sometimes I found it unbelievable – the length the go to make me comfortable especially when they realized I am a foreigner.

Addis Ababa has some character and I hope that the current pace of development does not wipe it out. By character I mean its mixed habitat – you can find thriving businesses amidst residential areas and residences in busy business environments. You will find big and small businesses thriving side by side, poor people living among the rich in their plastic shacks. But the arrival of places like Edna Mall and others that gobble space and only invite those with big money, Addis will follow the rest of the world to become an increasingly unequal community.

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My all favourite food spot is Opal Restaurant on Namibia St.

But if you are one person who is not bothered by inequality and you have money in your wallet, Addis is paradise. You can eat, shop and party. Bole area has a high concentration of night spots that encourage wicked parties. There are enough bars and lounges here to make half of the area’s workforce call in sick the next day.

Food: Where do I start – you will be spoilt for choices. There are restaurants everywhere and they make excellent food. My favourite is Opal Restaurant on Namibia Street.

I bought myself a good pair of shoes. What’s a man without a good shoe!

I have officially done 6,800KM from Cape Town (South Africa) to Addis Ababa by road in two different trips. As I packed for the airport, convinced that this was a worthy trip, I checked the distance from Addis Ababa to Cairo by road. It is about 5000kms. That will be my next challenge!

See you in Nairobi!

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.