Playing With Orphaned Infant Elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust by Oroni Tendera

Copyright: Sheldrick-Wildlife-Trust

Watching infant elephants feeding and playing is magical, but bonding with them is a breath-taking experience unique to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Sandwiched between the KWS staff quarters and the Nairobi national park, is the little  known Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a safe haven for rescued orphaned infant elephants.

“Our mission is to save elephants from us humans,” says the chief ranger as he ushers us into the orphanage.

We position ourselves around an open field, the size of a basketball pitch; cameras rolling and clicking.  The chief ranger walks to the middle of the field and snaps his fingers. Reacting from the cue, six young elephants emerge from a nearby bush, running. They surround him.

“These orphans are very fragile and must be watched closely at all times. The keepers protect them with blankets when it is cold. Right now we are going to feed them on human baby formula milk,” he says.

Six keepers dressed in long green jackets and white gumboots emerge from the bush holding feeding bottles. They stand strategically, adjacent to the chief ranger and the calves. Gently, the six calves walk to the six rangers. Each calf seems to know its keeper. As they suckle milk from the huge bottles, they rest their trunks on the neck, face and armpits of their respective feeders.

“The keepers remain with the orphans 24 hours a day, providing round-the clock care, milk on demand, and plenty of love and guidance just as a mother elephant would in the wild. Baby elephants have a super-sharp memory. That’s why they all remember their keepers,” explains the chief ranger.

The feeding program takes about ten minutes. Satisfied to their fill, the calves roll themselves on the muddy ground, playing with twigs and kicking rubber balls and stones joyfully.  “Baby elephants duplicate children in so many ways. They have unlimited access to nature’s toys, such as sticks and stones and play things such as rubber tubes. You are free to touch them as they move close to you,” announces the ranger.

True to his words, two calves begin to walk towards us.  I step forward as other tourists back off with fear. I outstretch my two hands and rub their rough dusty backs. One of them, a bull, drops a twig that he has been holding with his trunk and walks away. “Bulls are more independent than females. The one standing next to you is a female calf called Zawadi,” he says.

Zawadi has two huge scars on her back, a clear indicator of her troubled past. I later learn that she found refuge in Sheldrick Wildlife Trust  in January 2019. She was reported wandering alone within community land and following herders with their livestock in Maasai Mara, presumably in desperate need of company. Sadly, the community had fired two arrows into her.

The KWS team located her, looking weak and in dire need of medical attention. They tended her wound before getting her to an airstrip for transfer to the nursery.

Zawadi bids me farewell by raising her trunk in the air then joins her friends. One naughty bull kicks a bucket full of water, emptying its content. As if celebrating the mess that he has done, he rumbles and trumpets loudly.

“Just like human children, naughty elephant calves are taught acceptable behavior. This is meted cautiously through a chastising tone of voice and accusatory wagging of a finger. It is essential to   show forgiveness so that the calf understands it was scolded for a momentary wrong doing.”

The calves are led back to the bush by their keepers. “Right now the calves are close to their keepers but as they get older, they begin to fraternize more with other elephants,” he explains.

“How long does it take for an orphaned elephant to be reintegrated to the wild?” I ask.

“Each orphan decides when to make the transition into a wild herd. This is influenced by the age at which the calf was orphaned, their unique personality and the friends they have made,” he responds.

“Once introduced to the wild, do the orphans remember giving their keepers surprise visits?” Asks a middle-aged Indian lady.

“They visit from time to time; share their wild-born babies with us, confident that their human family will always be there for them. I also urge you to protect these endangered species by speaking out against poaching and ivory trade in your respective countries,” he speaks with finality.

I realize it is already noon, time to leave. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust hosts tourists daily (including public holidays) from 11am to 12noon at a fee of Ksh 500.

Rediscovering Machakos People’s Park

“The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life,” Agnes Repplier.

It is Saturday afternoon. The Machakos heat is almost unbearable.  I am in a tuk-tuk taxi, with two other passengers, packed like sardines in a can. The driver shows no sign of worry or hurry. My clothes are soaking in sweat.  I run out of patience.

“Are we planted here forever?” I mock his laxity.

He breaks into a thunderous laughter, before rolling the key in the ignition. The tuk-tuk roars into action and hits the road, Kenyan style. The woman on my left slumps against me as we approach the Machakos-Nairobi highway.  “Excuse me, mama. Kindly give me some space. I am quite uncomfortable,” I plead, gasping for air. “I am not your mother,” she grumbles before muttering innumerable curses in her native language.

She assumes an upright sitting posture. Silence rules. The driver turns left, a few kilometers past the governor’s office. We follow a long narrow tarmac road, overtaking other tuk-tuks. A boy runs across the road abruptly, the driver sways past him, narrowly missing a stationary motorcycle parked in the middle of the road.

“There is a problem with the front wheel,’’ says the driver in rhythmic coastal Swahili, applying the brakes. Instead of dancing to the musicality of his accent, I nod in agreement. The driver jumps out of the tuk-tuk. I force my way past the hefty woman besides me, following the driver.  She clicks and stones me with a cruel stare.  The driver inspects the tyre. “Nothing unusual!” he remarks.

We return to our seats. My neighbor puffs up instantly  at my sight. I wear a sarcastic grin in self defense. We get back on track, destined for the historical Machakos People’s Park.

“Where are we?” I ask impatiently.

“Open your eyes. We are entering Machakos people’s park!” the driver exclaims pointing at a blue gate in front of us. I cannot wait for further instructions. My patience is on trial. After parting with Ksh 100, I jump out of the tuk-tuk and run towards the gate.  Children playing at the gate laugh at me. Perhaps at the sight of a super-slender man, running like a suspended marionette.

“Entry fee?” I ask the security guard at the gate.

“Entry to the park is free like air for individuals and groups of less than 10,” he   says patting me gently on my back.

Concrete pavements snake through the park. A water fountain stands distinctively near the entrance. Every Saturday, holiday makers and business people converge here at the People’s park. Face painters and happy-go-lucky children. Slay queens and the pedicurist. Love-birds and the ice-cream man at the Lover’s corner garden. School girls and commercial photographers. University students bargaining for skateboards amid laughter. Senior citizens reliving their youthful days at the bar.

An artificial lake overlooking the park gets hold of my attention. I walk past a bouncing castle, a revolving merry-go-round and screaming zip-liners. Large water bodies have always driven me crazy. In 2014, I almost spent the whole day boat riding at Lake Tanganyika. This was barely a month after I had had a nasty experience with the Congolese marine at the Rwanda-Congo border. Excited by the sight of lake Kivu at Kamembe in western Rwanda, I dived into the lake without a second thought. I swam, unknowingly crossing the international border. Were it not for my mastery of Kingwana dialect of Kiswahili, I would have found myself crying behind bars in a foreign country.

“Welcome to Maruba dam. I charge Ksh100 for boat rides,” a middle-aged man standing at the shore of the lake announces at us rather than to us. I step forward. I am later joined by a lady and a man. We board the canoe and venture into the dam like free spirits, rowing it gently, taking dozens of selfies.

Conscious of my past experience with large water bodies, I remain cautious. One lap around the dam quenches my curiosity.  I bid my three new friends farewell and retrace my way back to the gate, burning with a strong desire to rediscover the gems of magical Machakos county.

The Mysterious Kyamwilu Hill Where Water Defies Gravity

“Travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta

The Mitaboni-bound matatu gets jerked forward abruptly, accelerating uphill. “What is the matter?”I yell at the driver. He chuckles, perhaps to ridicule my tension, and then lowers the volume of the stereo that has been replaying Alex Kasau’s song ‘Wana Kisinga’.

“We are currently climbing the mysterious Kyamwilu hill,” he says as he drives to the edge of the road. He stops the car. I alight.

Another mystery embraces me. A Subaru Crosstrek at the other side of the road, windows rolled down, is moving uphill unmanned. A group of young men and women chanting “Wamlambez!….wamnyonyez!” are following the car. It suddenly stops after moving approximately 50 metres uphill.

Men holding 1-litre plastic bottles are scattered at the sides of the road. They wave at me. I wave back. Unlike Nairobi, Machakos steams with warm humanity. Genuine smiles and well-meaning conversations are common here. I cross the road to meet my prospective new friends.

“Are you fine?” I greet them in Kikamba. They all laugh at my accent before responding in the affirmative. One of the men gently grabs my right hand and leads me to the centre of the road. He unseals the water bottle on his left hand and pours its content on the road. To my amazement, water flows uphill. “Is witchcraft real?” I exclaim peering at my new friend. He meets my gaze with a neutral expression. “By the way I am Munyao John and welcome to Kyamwilu hill. The only place on earth where the force of gravity is defied,” he says. An oncoming   lorry interrupts our conversation. We rush back to the side of the road.

A long silence ensues. I take a keen look of my environment. Undulating blue hills dot our background. No hotel. No loud businesspeople selling artifacts and curios. The place looks sleepy but serene. “Why is this hill called Kyamwilu?” I break the silence.

“Not long ago,’’ says Munyao, “A set of twin brothers, Kyalo and Mwilu did the most unforgivable abomination in Kamba tradition. They married one woman. She was called Mwende. She conceived a boy child called Kamau before passing on. Mwende was buried somewhere on this hill. However, it was not made clear who fathered Kamau between the twins. For that reason Kyalo and Mwilu were constantly engaging in fights over Kamau. When the two brothers later died, Mwilu was buried at the upper side of the hill while Kyalo at the lower part. Death did not stop their scuffle. Right now they are still fighting.”

“How?” I butt in.

“Mwilu was the eldest twin. Stronger than Kyalo. He is constantly overpowering his brother. Due to Mwilu’s unusual strength, water moves uphill towards his grave. I can take you there,”saysMunyao.

I nod, following him.

At the edge of the hill, stands a lone dwarf green guava tree amidst drying vegetation.

“Beneath that guava tree, lies the late but great Mwilu. The tree germinated a few days after he was buried. It has withstood the test of time,” says Munyao.

“Where is Kamau’s grave?” I ask.

“Kamau is alive. He sold their ancestral land and relocated to a secret place in Lukenya.”

“So the two dead old men are ever fighting over a living old man?”

“There is life after death. You must be a writer. Right? Write about that,” says Munyao.

“One day I will write about you, Kyalo, Mwilu and I,” I say as we walk back to the roadside.

“That hill in front of us is full of mysteries too. Can we go there for a hike?” suggests Munyao.

“No, thank you. I want to go home and write about Kyamwilu and us,” I say tipping John.

He mumbles innumerable “thank yous.”

A matatu stops besides us to drop a passenger. I bid Munyao farewell and promise to revisit Kyamwilu..

“May you meet Kamau in Machakos town,” he screams as I board the matatu.

Communing with Art, Nature and History at Uhuru Gardens

“Take only memories, leave only footprints,” Chief Seattle.

If you want to beat traffic jam in Nairobi, hit the road on Sunday. You will be embraced by empty roads and overcrowded churches. That has always been my wrong perception of the city in the sun. It is a sunny Sunday morning and traffic gridlock is real. Most major roads have been closed, thanks to the Stanchart marathon. We are crawling on traffic, hooting and hurling curses at impatient motorists.

Instead of 30 minutes, it has taken us exactly 2 hours to drive from the CBD to Uhuru garden. Uhuru gardens is the highway to Kenya’s history. It is the largest memorial park in Kenya where the first ‘Uhuru’ (independence) celebrations were held under the leadership of Kenya’s first president, the late Jomo Kenyatta. I am here to particularly commune with history, art and nature. I bid my Uber driver farewell and jump-start my mission.

“Hello, what is the entrance fee?” I ask the ticketing officer.

“We only charge   motorists a parking fee of Ksh 200,” he says giving little   attention to me.

I walk past him. A cool breeze blows my body, weeding out any feeling of fatigue . There is a sea of humanity in this vast park, seeking haven from the   hustles   and bustles of the city. Religious people praying silently, love birds cuddling each other intimately and curious foreign tourists capturing everything and anything around them on camera. I flow with the mass towards a picturesque monument. The main features of the monument   include: People raising the flag of Kenya, a dove, heart, clasped hand and a man standing alert.

Literature cast on the foundation stone of the monument reveals that it was commissioned on 12th December 1986 by Kenya’s second president, H.E Daniel Arap Moi. The dove signifies peace, the heart stands for love and clasped hands symbolize unity. The human sculpture signifies the readiness to defend Kenya at all times.

A shrill scream suddenly shakes me to the core. I turn back to catch a glimpse of a teenage girl running away. “What’s up?” I ask a startled senior citizen shaking her head.

“This harmless warthog was sniffing at her shoes. Poor girl, she thought it would maul her to death. Anyway, maybe she is warming up for the Olympics games,” She responds.

“That is the tragedy of watching one million horror movies and reading zero books,” I rub onto her face my reading campaign.

“There are two types of readers: ordinary and critical readers. I have mad respect for the latter and indescribable contempt for the former,” she says smiling at me.

She gets an Oppo Smartphone from her pouch and requests me to take a selfie with her in front of the historical monument. I honour her request.

“I visit this place every Sunday to re-live the bitter-sweet Jomo and Moi regimes. You millenials will never understand our past pain and pleasure,” she says as she scrolls through the photos on her phone gallery.

“I read history books,” I disapprove her.

“History books will never tell you about my feelings towards the introduction of the multiparty system in Kenya. History books will never tell you about my dad’s admiration of Moi’s Nyayo philosophy. History books will never tell you about my elder brother’s displeasure in Moi’s leadership style. History books will serve you exaggerated facts without any pinch of human feeling. History must be humanized.”

Silence ensues. A light aircraft zooms past us towards Wilson airport. “By the way, I am Philomena Chacha, a retired teacher of history. You are the people to rectify the grey areas in our history textbooks,” she says.

“What do you mean? You must be kidding!” I exclaim

She responds by clicking and granting me a contemptuous head to shoes look before walking away.

Her unusual utterances and bizarre reaction render me speechless. I compose myself swiftly and walk towards a mugumo tree in front of me. On my way, I pass by an olive tree planted by president Uhuru Kenyatta on 11th October 2013 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Kenya’s independence. Coincidentally, the mugumo tree was planted in 1964 by president Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, H.E Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. The tree is of historical significance since it was planted on the spot where the colonial Union Jack( British flag) was lowered and Kenya’s national flag first hoisted.

It is already noon. The bright sun has already been hidden by dark-grey clouds, threatening to release a heavy downpour. Rains are catalysts for chaos in Nairobi. I swagger back to the parking lot, scared of the impending traffic snarl but pleasantly amazed by the 1 -hour moment of enlightenment. Thank you Uhuru gardens for teaching me history through art and nature.

Gems of Magical Machakos

Peacefully nestled in Eastern Kenya, Machakos is a fast growing county crowned by orderliness, hospitality, hilltops, labyrinthine caves and a fairly remarkable urban space. Conveniently located 56 kilometres from Nairobi, Machakos remains the perfect place to begin and end any safari to eastern Kenya.

  Here below are 6 gems of Machakos county:

1.Machakos People’s Park

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Machakos People’s park. Courtesy: tripadvisor.com

Machakos people’s park is the icon of Machakos county. Only 15 minutes drive from Machakos town, the park offers a wide array of fun-filled activities for adults and children.

Concrete paths snake through the park, offering visitors a breath-taking view of a man-made lake overlooking the park. There is an amphitheatre, dancing fountain, two restaurants and a bar at the park. Adventurous adults may engage in zip-lining and boat riding at the artificial lake, as children swing in a merry-go-round, ride on horses, have their faces painted and make merry on jumping castles.

The park washrooms are sufficient and spotlessly clean. On top of that, there is a police post right inside the park. Entry into Machakos People’s  park is free for individuals and groups of less  than ten people.

  1. Masinga Dam Reservoir

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    Masinga dam. Courtesy: tripadvisor.com

Masinga dam reservoir is  a man-made lake located approximately  160 kilometres from Nairobi city. The dam covers about 120 km2 and has a capacity of holding 1.56 cubic metres of water. Commissioned in 1981, it is a great asset in generating electricity and  storing water for irrigation.

Masinga dam reservoir is beautifully sandwiched between Mwea game reserve and blue rolling hills. Adjacent to the reservoir, is Masinga dam resort that offers its patrons a variety of African and western cuisines as well as boat rides, nature walks, swimming and cycling.

  1. Macmillan Castle

Visiting the historical Macmillan Castle, 65 kilometres from Nairobi city, means stepping back in time. Approximately covering a ground as large as three basketball courts, the castle was home to lord William Northrop Macmillan born in 1872 in the US.

At the castle, Macmillan rubbed shoulders with mighty and great visitors such as former American president Theodore Roosevelt, British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, the colonial British governor  Sir Evelyn, the governor of Italian East Africa among many others.  The plan to arrest the late Jomo Kenyatta was also formulated in Macmillan castle.

Currently, the castle is under the custodian of Mukaa Mukuu farmers’ cooperative.

  1. Kituluni Hill

Kituluni hill, located 12 kilometres East of Machakos town, is the only place on earth where water flows uphill for twenty minutes before changing its course at the peak of the hill. The same mysterious result has been reported on stationery vehicles whose engines have been switched off and parked at the side of the road, next to the hill. The vehicle moves up the hill at a speed of 5kph unaided for a distance of approximately 1 km.

The tarmac road that leads to Kituluni is punctuated with sharp turns and bends. Midway round the hill, irrespective of the driving speed, cars are usually jerked forward and suddenly accelerate without any visible change on the speedometer.

So far, no scientific study has been conducted to explain this rather bizarre phenomenon.

 

  1. Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park

Located approximately 70 kilometres from Nairobi in Machakos county, the park is home to buffaloes, Columbus monkeys, bushbucks, baboons and over 40 bird species. Ol Donyo Sabuk mountain, a magnanimous tower in the middle of Athi plains, is covered by a dense forest. Lord Northrop Macmillan  was the first white man to settle at the park and his grave is located near  the peak of the mountain.

Visitors can enjoy hiking at the mountain.

  1. LUKENYA CAVES

It is impossible to talk about the Akamba freedom fighters without mentioning Lukenya caves. Only 5 minutes drive from Mombasa road, the caves were hideouts for Maumau freedom fighters during the pre-colonial period.

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Lukenya Caves. Courtesy: Machakostourism.co.ke

Nairobi Animal Orphanage: Championing Conservation Through Rehabilitation

Nairobi  Animal Orphanage is situated  in the Nairobi National park. According to the Kenya Wildlife Society, it serves as a treatment and rehabilitation centre for animals. The Orphanage is home to lions, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, serval cats, rare Sokoke cats, warthogs, leopards,  monkeys, baboons, buffalo. and various  bird species. Each animal and bird at the orphanage has its own unique life story.  A story that will either inspire the spirit of wildlife conservation in you or simply entertain you. Here below are real stories  of 7 animals at the orphanage.

  1. Lioness Sarah Tumaini

Sarah is undoubtedly the most famous living lioness in Kenya. On 28th June, 2014, the United Nation’s Secretary general−Ban Ki Moon visited the animal orphanage specifically to meet her.  Patrick, her caretaker, allowed her to play with the secretary general. She did not disappoint him. So thrilled was the UN’s boss that he christened her, Tumaini, a Swahili name that literally translates to ‘hope.’ Sarah was further adopted by the secretary general  not only to symbolize his solidarity in conservation with Kenyans but also as  a sign of hope that animals and humans can co exist in harmony.

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  1. Jan the Warthog

Animal keepers , Robert and Mutuku,  received  a report from people at Langa’ta Hospital about a baby warthog all on his own. When they went to the site, they advised the people to keep watch that night to see if the mother retuned. She didn’t, so the next day, 8th October, 2014, they collected the fragile, tiny piglet and brought her to the Nursery where she required special care. Mama orphanage named  her  Jan and with Patrick and Lawrence, helped look after her.

Jan grew stronger daily and loved all the attention, especially being fed from her milk bottle. She refused to eat porridge  from a dish even when she was several months old. She played outside  during the day and slept in a pen at night. One evening in August 2015, she refused to get into her shelter. Patrick had quite a time chasing her.  The following day, Jan was transferred to a bigger enclosure.  Currently, Jan is delighted with her home. Every evening,  Partrick  puts Jan to her soft bed of hay.

 

  1. Monkey Benin

On 31st January 2005, Kenya wildlife service officers confiscated an illegal shipment of primates in transit to Cairo. There were six chimpanzees and several monkeys. The chimps were taken to Ol Pejeta while the monkeys found a home at the Animal Orphanage. Benin was one of the saved monkeys. She  is playful and easy-to-like.  “She was moved here from our  Monkey village so that she can watch visitors entering the orphanage,’’ explains Joshua, her Custodian. However, the delightful lady can  become mischievous and visitors are warned against getting her attention by holding up objects in front of her.

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  1. Leopard Talek

Talek is the pride and joy of Nairobi orphanage.  He was brought to the orphanage on 11th September,2006   at a tender age of 2 weeks.  Dai, a passer -by,  found her all alone near the Masai Mara Talek gate. He informed the Narok council and the KWS authorities. It was later decided that  the  weak and pitifully-crying leopard cub  be brought to the Animal  Orphanage for hand-rearing. He drank milk from a bottle every four hours and soon began eating steak mince.

Now, at the age of 11, Talek is powerfully-built and friendly

 

 

  1. Sokote cats: Mr Anabuko and Mrs Sokoke

A set of Sokoke cats occupy the fifth enclosure of Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Slender, hard-muscled trunk and long legs  give them  the appearance of  skilled predators.  Their coats are single-layered ,dense and  have blotched tabby pattern with ticked hair occurring in shades of brown. The cats heads are  flat at the top with rounded ears and almond-shaped slightly slanted green eyes.

The pair  of cats were brought  to the orphanage in March  2003  from  Mt Kenya Safari Ranch where Don Hunt breeds  them. According to their caretakers, the two cats were wild during their early days at the orphanage. They would spit at their caretakers and slap them with their paws. However, within a month, they became friendly.

Mrs Sokoke likes  to sit at the roof of their house to watch visitors while Mr Anabuko  derives pleasure in rubbing himself against his custodians and standing on his hind legs for attention. “They know the voices of those of us who take care of them, and when they hear us talk nearby, they call out to us,’’says one of their caretakers.

  1. Cheetah Derrick

In July 2014, a sick 3-week-old cheetah from Wajir was admitted to Nairobi Animal Orphanage. To save his life, he was accorded specialist medical attention for several months. Derrick cried sometimes during the painful injections but as time advanced he seemed to understand that he was being helped to recover.

On the eve of his 1st Birthday, Derrick was moved  from the Animal Nursery to his present enclosure where he lives peacefully with two other cheetahs−Danny and Diane.

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  1. Peace the Serval Cat

Peace was brought to the Animal Orphanage on 25th June, 2010 when he was less than two months old. He readily took milk from a baby bottle. Mewa, his caretaker, gave him a blanket, hot water bottle and a soft toy. As  Peace continued growing, he developed interest in watching other animals when he went out to play and never cried when he was put to bed at night.

Now fully-grown, Peace does not mind being held but cannot stay still

Hotel Review: After 40 Hotel

after-40

Located along Biashara street, After 40 hotel captures the essence of Nairobi-combining international sophistication and African cultural creativity.

The 10-floor hotel stylishly blends African art with luxurious accommodation to create an oasis of tranquility in the heart of Nairobi’s CBD. Offering state-of-the-art interiors combined with efficient service for all guests, the  hotel has 63 exquisitely furnished and air-conditioned  rooms and suites. The style of each room is a testament to world-class comfort and functionality. From a choice of pillows to surround-sound high definition TVs and high speed internet.

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Conference rooms are tailored to specific needs-from small private events to larger conferences. Each conference room is fitted with modern audio-visual equipment and connected to high-speed WiFi. Event planning is always tailored to what customers require and the hotel’s team makes sure that business is always a pleasure.

After 40 hotel brings the crème de la crème of modern food and drink to life, to indulge the inner gourmet. World class chefs deliver authentic cuisine, created to the highest standards. Guests can partake coffee and snacks at the coffee shop on the ninth floor or simply visit the restaurant at the tenth floor to indulge their taste buds in a memorable experience.

After 40 is defined by its service, which is always effortless, personal and genuine. Its standards are uncompromising, fast and unobstructive. Beyond that, the hotel’s service is also about providing the unexpected: the little details, the fine touches that leave guests feeling well cared for and special.

A Date With Nature at the Nairobi Safari Walk

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings”-Moslih Eddin Saadi.

safari-1After a 20-minute- ride in a matatu from Nairobi’s bus station, I am finally here at the entrance of Nairobi Safari walk. It is 1pm but the sun’s big eye is shut.  Thick grey clouds are hanging dangerously above my head. On my left, stands Nairobi national park’s gate, almost shadowing the view of Nairobi animal orphanage. A group of 3 foreigners, speaking animatedly in Australian accent are taking too long at the reception. One of them, a loud man with heavy make-up and feminine moves is raising eyebrows from onlookers. My patience is on trial. I am tempted to change my mind.  Unlike  Nairobi animal orphanage and the national park, very little has been written about Nairobi Safari Walk.

“I came here on a mission to ‘discover,’’’ I reassure myself as I force my way past the Australians, Kenyan style.  The ticketing officer, lifts his face to meet my gaze. I  am expecting a growl or a bark from his no-nonsense face. “Hallo,’’ I attempt to break the tension. “Hallo, welcome to Nairobi Safari walk. Are you a Kenyan citizen?’’ he asks in a calm voice. I nod. “You will pay Ksh 215,’’ he says. I display my national identity card and part with Ksh 500. Impressed by his professionalism , I ask him to keep change but he politely declines the offer.

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Distant lion roars and birds chirping and swooping in the air, welcome me in style. I am almost breathless and quite scared of walking on the raised  wooden boardwalk. However, the further I walk, the less tense I become. I hear sharp cracking noise ahead of me. I stop, listen intently, look left and right but there is nothing. I walk cautiously, conscious of the danger of the wild. Eureka! There are pigmy hippos grazing a few metres from me. They look healthy and undisturbed by my presence.  The ecosystem around here is wetland with large masses of water lilies. Not far from the hippos, lies an adult Nile crocodile, eyes closed and mouth wide  open. I guess he must have had a very heavy lunch.

The adventurous spirit in me urges me to move ahead. I grab my camera and photograph them. From the corner of my right eye, I see a rungu wielding Masaai man approaching me. Startled, I freeze on the ground. We exchange formal greetings and he offers to show me around.  “Why is that crocodile asleep?’’ I ask him in Kiswahili.  He laughs and dares me to jump into its enclosure to find out whether its asleep or alert.

“Is the whole habitat of Nairobi Safari walk a wetland?’’ I ask my host. ‘‘No. We are transiting onto Savannah environment,” he says pointing at a rock hyrax. A white signpost stands at the edge of the trail. It bears pictures  of three rock hyrax and an elephant. “Hyrax and elephants are cousins,’’ reads the signpost in part, “The 2kg rock hyrax is a distant cousin to the 1200kg elephant. Forty million years ago, there was a beast called moeritherium. The hyrax and the elephant  can both be traced back to this ancient ancestor.’’

“This is just the beginning of pleasure,’’ the tour guide accelerates my adrenaline. “What next!’’ I exclaim. ‘’Be calm and follow me.’’ I trail behind the Maasai warrior, passing a number of colourful signposts and diverse indigenous  tree species. From a distance, I can spot an endangered rhinoceros grazing. Not far from the rhino are herds of zebra, antelopes and a proud ostrich−a lone bird amid grazers.

 

Growls rent the air accompanied by purrs.  I follow into the footsteps of my host without uttering a word. We enter a medium-sized shelter with walls made of glass.  Outside, a restless big cat, I guess it is a cheetah, is purring . “Is that  a cheetah or a leopard?’’ I break the silence. “It is a cheetah. The main difference between the two is that  cheetahs have a tear line running from the inside of their eye to the mouth while leopards lack that feature.’’ Beaming with satisfaction, I hand my camera to the guide and request him to take photos of me.  I pose like Usain Bolt in front of the fastest animal on earth, smiling sheepishly.  Bang! A loud noise on the glass wall awakens all the demons in my head. I yell and jump in the air. My host is busy laughing like a hyena and capturing that awkward moment on camera. I gasp and look behind me. The cheetah is hitting the wall with its head. ‘’That glass wall is stronger that what you imagine. Not even an elephant can break it.’’

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Scared blogger yelling at the top of his voice as the restless cheetah hit the wall

I force a short laughter.”Time to leave,’’ I mumble. “Not before viewing  river Mokoyet,’’ my host cuts me short. ‘’As you say,’’ I respond leading the way, unaware of the exact location of the river. The clouds have scattered and the sun is partially exposed. I hum to myself Reuben James, hoping that the clouds will scatter further.

We are at the end of the boardwalk. Below us, river Mokoyet flows silently.  I whistle. A scared dik-dik hops to the bush. A  buffalo materializes from the forest and drinks water. Next to  the buffalo, are mating oryx gazelles. ‘’There is love in the wild,’’ my guide comments . ‘’And I am in love  with the wild,’’ I reply. “That’s lovely,’’ someone shouts from behind. I turn back. The three Australians are right behind us. The sissy loud dude is dancing− gyrating his hips and pointing at the mating gazelles with his lips. The burly man is holding his slim girlfriend in a tight embrace, taking selfies and chanting ‘that’s lovely’ after every 3 seconds.

Thank you Nairobi Safari Walk for showing me love.

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7 Wonders of Kenya

From the majestic Mt. Kenya to the pearly white sandy beaches at the coast , Kenya is indeed a paradise for holidaymakers. Here below is a list of 7 wonders of the world’s number one safari destination.

  1. Kituluni Hill(The Anti-gravity Hill)

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Kituluni hill, located 12 kilometres East of Machakos town, is the only place on earth where water flows uphill for 20 metres before changing its course at the peak of the hill. The same mysterious result has been reported on stationery vehicles whose engines have been switched off and parked at the side of the road, next to the hill. The vehicle moves up the hill at a speed of 5kph unaided for a distance of approximately 1 km.

The tarmac road that leads to Kituluni is punctuated with sharp turns and bends. Midway round the hill, irrespective of the driving speed, cars are usually jerked forward and suddenly accelerate without any visible change on the speedometer.

So far, no scientific study has been conducted to explain this rather bizarre phenomenon.

  1. Saiwa Swamp National Park.

oct-2Situated in Trans-nzoia county , 27 kilometres north of Kitale town , Saiwa swamp sits on 2.7 square kilometres of land, making it the smallest national park in Kenya. Despite its  size, the park is habitat  to rare and endangered  semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope, endangered debarazza monkey, bush bucks, giant forest squirrels, black and white colobus monkey, amphibians and reptiles. The park is also home to the grey crowned cranes and about 372 other bird species.

The park’s vegetation is a combination of riverine forests, grasslands, acacia, bulrushes and sedges.

Saiwa Swamp National Park is open daily(inclusive of weekends and public holidays) from 6:00 am to 6:00pm. The park entry fees are: Citizen adults Ksh 350, resident adults Ksh 600 while non residents are charged 25 USD for adults and 15 USD for children.

  1. The Great Rift Valley oct-3

It is the dream of every adventurous traveller to view the Great rift valley, a mega fault-line that covers approximately one sixth of the earth’s circumference. The Great rift valley  cuts across  Kenya from north to south. The valley’s floor is marked by lakes and volcanoes.  A perfect place to have a breath-taking view of the Great Rift valley is at the edge of the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, in Limuru. At this point, visitors will have a panorama view  of  the Great Rift valley with it’s vast vegetation.

This is a  scenic sight to behold that  will definitely turn any traveller to a poet.

  1. Mt Kenya

Mt. Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa after Mt. Kilimanjaro. The three main summits of the mountain are: Batian at 5199 metres above the sea level, Nelion at 5188 metres and point Lenana at 4985 metres. Mount Kenya has diverse vegetation from the base to the summit. Furthermore, the mountain has 12 remnant glaciers  that are receding rapidly. An area of 715 km2  within the centre of the mountain is gazzetted  National Park and as of 1997 it was listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mt. Kenya is  200km north of Nairobi and  can be  accessed by road from Nairobi to its nearest towns-Nanyuki and Meru. Travellers with keen interest in trekking and hiking are highly recommended to explore this destination.

  1. Lake Turkana oct-4

Situated in Northen Kenya, on  the floor of the Great rift valley, lake Turkana is the world’s largest permanent desert lake as well as the world’s largest alkaline lake in terms of volume. It is also the fourth largest salty lake in the world. The lake is home to about 50 species of fish that includes 11 endangered species such as Barbus turkanae and chichlids. Lake Turkana also contains a sizeable population of Nile crocodiles and large water turtles. On the Eastern shore of the lake, lies lake Turkana national park that is  listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The East and West Shores of Turkana  are separated by the wide Suguta valley. The east shore of the lake  can be accessed through  Maralal and Marsabit  to Loyangalani whereas the west shore can be reached via Kitale to Lodwar. Both shores have airstrips. Generally, it is a two day journey on road from Nairobi to either of the shores.

  1. DIANI BEACHdiani

Diani  beach is a composition of  immaculate-white sand hugging the turquoise  waters of the  mighty Indian Ocean. Located 30 kilometres south of Mombasa in Kwale county, the beach is 10 kilometres long.  The water is always shallow near the shore.  Underwater sandbars near the surface easen wading. From the beach, visitors  can have a clear  view of the extensive palm trees that cover the coastal region.

An airstrip is situated near the beach, off the Mombasa-Lungalunga road.

  1. KAKAMEGA RAIN FORESToct-7

Kakamega  rain forest is Kenya’s only tropical forest. It sits in the heart of western Kenya in the counties of Kakamega and Kisumu. Kakamega forest is a paradise of birds. 367 species of birds have been spotted in the forest. Wildlife that live in the park include the tree pangolin, bush pig, duikers, mongoose, giant African water shrew, squirrels, porcupine, bushbuck among many others. The park’s Flora is diverse and includes indigenous African soft woods as well as hardwoods such  as the Elgon teak, red and white stinkwood.

Visitors can access the forest through the Southern part at Isechano Forest station that is run by the Kenya Forest Service. There is a well-defined network  of walking and hiking trails  in the forest. The park entry fees are as follows: Non citizens  Ksh 600,  residents  Ksh 400  while Kenya citizens  pay Ksh200 per day.

Nairobi Railway Museum: Treasury of Kenyan History

Visiting the Nairobi Railways museum means stepping back in time and sideways into reality. One in which exhibits forming part of Kenya’s history are held. Where artefacts, photographs and old furniture lie in polished galleries while locomotives as old as 100 years stand distinctively at the museum’s yard.

“It is not uncommon for a country to create a railway, but it is uncommon for a railway to create a country,’’ the words of Sir Charles Eliot in 1903,displayed a few inches past the entrance to the galleries, highlight the co-relationship between the construction of the Uganda railway and the creation of a country−Kenya.

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The idea of a railway came into fruition in the late 1880s when both Germany and Britain had acquired territories in the East African region. Both colonies began to actively survey routes from the coastal region to Lake Victoria. As the Germans worked on the line from Tanga to Mt Kilimanajaro the British surveyed a route from Mombasa. In December 1895, George Whitehouse stepped ashore in Mombasa and in May 1896, the first rails were laid of the project that would become known as the ‘Lunatic line.’ Its name was coined in a speech in London concerning the ever increasing costs of what appeared to be a futile exercise.

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It was later formally named the Uganda Railway, which remained in use until 1926, when it was renamed the Kenya Uganda railway. In 1948 the Tanganyika Railway and the Kenya Uganda Railway amalgamated to form East African Railways and Harbours. When the three countries separated in 1977, the lines from Mombasa to the Tanzania and Uganda borders became Kenya Railways.

MUSEUM GALLERIES
The galleries hold an array of principal items used during the pre and post construction period of the Kenya Uganda railway lines. Some of the most outstanding features include an extraordinary bench seat that used to be fit above the cowcatcher of the train to allow distinguished travellers on the lunatic line(modern day Kenya Railways) an excellent view of Kenya’s magnificent flora and fauna. Among such dignitaries were former American president Theodore Roosevelt and the Prince of Wales.

The Kenya Railways Permanent Way Inspector Bicycle Trolley is another item of interest that seem to have defied the test of time. It was introduced by the railway administration in the early thirties as an experiment to provide a quick inspection rather than the slow method of inspection by push, where three to four men together with the trolley and the inspector would proceed out in line. The inspector Bicycle Trolley had a number of limitations. For instance, during dry weather, one could proceed cautiously , but when the rail head was wet, and travelling around sharp curves, the back wheel would often slip off.

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A visit at the museum galleries is incomplete without viewing the historic plaque commemorating Kenya Uganda Railway’s exhibit at the British Empire exhibition in London in the year 1925 and the complete set of dining furniture recovered from the German warship S.M.S Konisberg after it was sunk in Rufiji delta south of Dar-es-Salaam in 1914 early in the first world war by a British task force. Further on inside the museum is the ship’s compass binnacle from the ‘William McKinnon’, first passenger steam ship to sail upon Lake Victoria after it had been transported in pieces from Mombasa in 1900.

THE OPEN-AIR STATIC DISPLAY
The pride of the Kenya Railways Museum lies at the yard where old locomotives are on display. The oldest coach, labeled Exhibit 7 was built in 1899 as a first class coach. Its claim to fame is that it was the coach from which an unfortunate Superintendent of Police, Charles Ryal was dragged by a lion at Kima station, 80 kilometres from Nairobi in June 1900. This incident has been portrayed in book form, The Man Eaters of Tsavo and also in film, The Ghost and the Darkness.

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Mountain Class locomotive display at the exhibition represents the ultimate development of steam traction in East Africa and was the most powerful metre-gauge locomotive gauge ever built. Chief Mechanical Engineer H.W Bulman had to solve a problem after the second world war: very large amounts of freight on offer, but limited line capacity to move it. He solved it by turning the design logic of the Beyer Garratt on its head. The articulated chassis to cope with sharp curves was retained, but instead of keeping the weight per axle as low as possible so the locomotive could go on any track, Bulman asked for the largest and heaviest design that the main track from Mombasa to Nairobi could withstand.

The museum possesses two further steam locomotives which have been restored to full working order by a team of retired Kenya Railways engineering staff. They are used to haul occasional tourist excursions and are stored at the Central Workshops. It is possible to view these locomotives by advance appointment.

BONUS
 The museum is situated in downtown Nairobi, adjacent to the railway station.
 It is open Monday to Sunday including public holidays from 8:00am to 4:45pm
 Entry fee is: Non Residents Ksh 600, East Africans Ksh 500, Citizens Ksh 200.
 There are two art galleries at the museum