Naloolo: The Spirit of African Exploration

20181006_092100

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.

DSC_1413

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.

20181006_093554

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

Loita: The Forest of the Lost Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_2913.JPG
Amani Fellows from various countries in Loita Forest

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

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

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

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

DSC_3096
Oloiboni Mokombo Senteu and his son: At the forefront of protecting the forest

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

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

May Loita Forest live forever!

Ngong Hills Adventure: Hiking with My Father

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

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-21 at 12.41.32
We started cheerfully with my brother, Lemayian.

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

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

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

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

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-21 at 12.41.26
Tough but fun. We were determined to reach the summit!

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

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

SONY DSC

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

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

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

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

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-21 at 12.39.31-4
We took breaks to rest and eat. I was tired. So tired!

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

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

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-21 at 12.41.27-2
Mission accomplished! Celebration on reaching the summit.

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

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

Naserian Maasai Mara Camp: Nature, Culture and Luxury

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

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

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

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://naserianmaracamp.com

 

Kileleoni Hill: The Roof Of Maasai Mara

SONY DSC
Our guide, Amos Kipeen

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

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

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

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

I made a mental note to return for this hill.

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

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

SONY DSC
Yours truly and Sintoyia Sengeny at the summit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the photos from the hike.

SONY DSC
The making of walk.ing sticks

SONY DSC
Oh wild fruits!

SONY DSC
Harris Taga leading on the trail

IMG_2533
Hungry!

IMG_2548

SONY DSC

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

IMG_2663
I see down there!

SONY DSCIMG_2560

SONY DSC
Your sighting of the rate mountain reedbuck

Maasai Mara: Perfect Calm Before the Wildebeest Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Mongoose in their little city – always cautious

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

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

DSC00272.JPG
A crane atop a tree – giving itself a real bird’s view of its surrounding.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

DSC_6996
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.

DSC_7059.JPG
We descended into the gorge from Olorriri village. 

DSC_7069
How do you describe this view? The high cliffs resemble pyramids.

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

DSC_7078
Eric Reson, our guide and raptor conservationists.

DSC_7221.JPG
Walking on the footsteps of his forefathers. 

DSC_7191
Steam spewing from fissures in many places in the gorge. 

DSC_7224
Cliffs, caves, nests for vultures and eagles are part of the landscape.

DSC_7041
It is the wild fruit and berry season.

DSC_7182
Red ochre boiling on a hot spring.

DSC_7238
Kaibartani, a landmark feature on the valley.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-26 at 6.43.12 PM
The sweet coloured waters of Paepayan well.

DSC_7141

DSC_7012.JPG
The southern end of the gorge facing Mt. Suswa.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-26 at 6.42.58 PM
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.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-20 at 18.03.07
Calling it cold is an understatement! Visibility was not at its best

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-22 at 17.06.36-3

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-20 at 18.04.20
The gentleman holding a water bottle performs massage for hikers at the summit for a fee of Sh100. It works magic!

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-22 at 17.06.37

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-22 at 17.06.36
Celebration on reaching the summit!

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-22 at 17.06.38-2

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-21 at 08.58.06
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

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29e
Foot forward. Ngong Hills is a photographer’s paradise.

DSC_1363
The weather changes by the minute – mist, the sun, cold warm.

DSC_1409

DSC_1490

DSC_1512

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2d3
Clean air hits your lungs – fresh, sweet!

DSC_1535

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c2

DSC_0058
New feature: A mudslide as a result of recent rains.

DSC_0128
There were quite a number of international visitors on the trail.

DSC_0024
Chatting with new friends – fellow hikers.

DSC_0210
Teenagers on the trail selling walking sticks. They were respectful and kind.

 

DSC_0220
The Ngong Wind power turbines occupies the east side of the mountain.