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Sopa Lodges will be found tucked away within the leading safari destinations across East Africa. We are located within the best hand-picked locations offering stunning picturesque views. We pride ourselves in offering our guests memorable experiences with the warmest East African welcome. CONTACT RESERVATIONS: Kenya +254 20 361 6000. Tanzania +255 27 250 0630-9. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com KENYA : AMBOSELI • LAKE NAIVASHA • LAKE NAKURU • MASAI MARA • SAMBURU • TANZANIA : NGORONGORO • SERENGETI • TARANGIRE •
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
A CELEBRATION OF THE MAASAI MARA Sitting with a group of friends the other day, one suggested it’d be fun to find out where Nairobi-ites would be travelling to over Kenya’s upcoming elections. Fired up with this new idea, we decided to take it up one step further, and ask politicians where they’d be heading to for a bit of down time after a bruising campaign. It didn’t turn out quite as planned. One, an opposition MP, said optimistically that he’d be far too busy governing to take a holiday. Another suspected it was a plot to show him in a bad light. So we turned instead to our more cooperative contributors, and asked them where they’d be over elections. One place many will be, interestingly, is in the Maasai Mara. Or tourists at least, according to a recent report. Far from reporting empty beds, the most popular lodges in the Mara ecosystem are crammed to capacity. Either it’s considered far enough away from any potential fall-out, or those of us living here are more disposed to worry about the Kenyan elections than those from overseas. So if you’re wondering where to escape election fever, look no further than our Mara special, where we bring you an issue packed with ideas for that special safari. Brian, Nomad’s photographer, and I travelled to the Mara (all in the name of research), and far
from living it up, we decided to see if it was possible to do it on the cheap - and still enjoy it. What we didn’t know then was that we’d spend large chunks of our time in a garage, watching the mechanic solder together parts of the undercarriage of my car that I didn’t even know existed. That one of the tents was missing a crucial fly sheet when it started to rain. Or that we’d be eating bacon and eggs for three days. Still, we did see a cheetah take down a wildebeest, and a leopard hitch its claws into its prey, and hoik it up a tree like it was a chunk of meat. Love it or loathe it, the Mara is surely Kenya’s crown jewel. Loved for its plethora of game, loathed by some for the crowded minipark feel it sometimes has, and the unavoidable sense that it’s a diminished product. But there’s a whiff of change in the air, thanks to the flourishing of privately-managed conservancies that has showed there is nothing inevitable about the demise of the Mara. Also in our Mara edition are Tamara Britten’s tips on finding the best lookout for the wildebeest migration, an interview with a Japanese vet who has trained up dogs to track poachers, as well as our picks of top-end places to stay, and the best of the rest. If you want to take the scenic route back (and do even more damage to your car), do
read about our road trip, where we ignore the naysayers to find a way through the rocky mayhem that is the Loita Hills road, bringing you down through the Nguruman Escarpment into Shompole. Harriet Constable, meanwhile, takes the new SGR train to Mombasa, and finds it far too clean and organised after her earlier experience on the Lunatic Express. New contributors Megan Iacobini de Fazio and Rachel Reed (behind the lens) tell us about the brave women tossing off cultural taboos to revive a dying musical tradition in Zanzibar. We meet the guy who spent a year in the remotest, most inaccessible forest reserve in Democratic Republic of Congo, and wonder what exactly draws a person to a place like that. Read the interview to find out, and if you’re looking for that big adventure, now’s the time to do it. As we head into elections here in Kenya, we all hope for a peaceful outcome. We will be taking a few weeks off to be back in September with some Tanzanian travel ideas to get you inspired.
Catrina Stewart catstewartuk
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
COVER PHOT0: ANDREYGUDKOV
8. TOP SHOTS We feature Kenya’s sharpest photo talents, with a majestic lion shot to complement our Mara issue. Two photographers give us the benefit of their experience on how to shoot magical landscapes. 14. NEWS Scientists warn of an imminent volcano eruption in Tanzania, while Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city, gets UNESCO World Heritage status. 16. COMING UP Dance on the shores of the Nile at Nyege Nyege, Uganda’s fastgrowing musical festival, with a line-up of local and international stars. And the Maralal Camel Derby is back!
19 GLOBETROTTERS 19. INTERVIEW WITH KAGWE MUNGAI The singer and producer talks about growing up in South Africa, heeding his mother’s advice, and how getting out of Nairobi for a gig does wonders for the ego. 71. INTERVIEW WITH CRISTA CULLEN Part of the British team that won gold in Rio, the hockey player tells us about her journey to the Olympics while not forgetting about her twin passions for conservation and travel in East Africa.
DISCOVER EXPLORE EXPERIENCE
FEATURES 26-49. MARA SPECIAL Need a trip to the Mara cost the earth? We travel there to find out. But if camping isn’t your thing, we narrow down some other options with every budget in mind. We give you the low-down on how to perfect your wildlife shots, where to check out the wildebeest migration, and bring you a profile of the Patel family, witnesses to the Mara’s radical changes within a generation. On a more serious note, we look at some of the issues blighting Kenya’s most famous national park. 50. DRIVING THE LOITA HILLS In our road trip, we set out to see if we can drive from the Mara to Shompole. If you’re looking for adventure, this route, which brings you down the steep Nguruman Escarpment, is both rewarding and challenging. 54. EXPRESS RIDE TO THE COAST Harriet Constable reckons it’s time to try out the new train to Mombasa, but will it have anything like the charm of the defunct Lunatic Express?
56. BREAKING TABOOS IN ZANZIBAR The first all-woman taraab ensemble is challenging traditional norms to revive an Arab-influenced musical art form. They have a social message, too.
20. CONFESSIONS OF A DIGITAL NOMAD Morris Kiruga finds it’s all very well to go on holiday to switch off, but what’s the point if he can’t tell everyone about it.
58. “ACCIDENTS HAPPEN IN CONGO” Oliver Nelson spent a year as park director in DRC’s Salonga National Park, perhaps the most inaccessible park anywhere in the world. We ask him what drew him there.
23. READING THE MORNING NEWS In Shompole, footprints tell a story. For Samantha du Toit and her children, it’s a daily marvel, but not everybody shares her perspective.
60. WALK THROUGH NGARA AND PANGANI Adrian Blomfield peers beneath the surface of this run-down neighbourhood to explore its fascinating history of prostitution and dissent. He discovers what is perhaps Nairobi’s oldest restaurant, a vibrant youth culture, and a relaxing spot for a fish curry and beer.
68. THE CASTLE The ladies at Traveldote join us with a new column exploring budget accommodation picks across Kenya. First up is Champagne Ridge.
62. WEEKEND AWAY IN KAJIADO You might not think there’s much to stop for on the road to Tanzania. But we beg to differ. We track down some of the most alluring private stays, including the gorgeous Tandala House, and drop in on the ostriches for a gander.
70. RETROSPECTIVE Given the run of late photographer Mo Amin’s archives, we start with a new series, looking at some of his lesser-known travel shots. 72. THE LAST WORD. This month, Frances Woodhams lampoons the business traveller, and wonders if he won’t be charmed by a young companion.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
Win a Sandstorm wash bag and passport holder, worth Ksh10,000! All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is tell us in a line or two what you enjoy most in Nomad magazine. Send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org with “What I Like” as the subject line. A winner will be randomly selected. Closing date is Midnight EAT, August 31, 2017.
William Miriga Photographer Top Shots, Page 10 Getting into photography: It started as a hobby but thanks to Instagram and the friends I have made there, I have been challenged from time to time to get better, contributing a great deal to my photography career. My kind of travel: By road (I am a very stubborn passenger, who keeps on requesting to stop at every place with a good view). I do not have a specific place I love going to as I am mostly excited by travelling to places I have never been before. Such places gets my creativity flowing the most.
Rachel Reed Photographer Breaking taboos in Zanzibar, Page 56 Getting into photography: My first camera at the age of 10 was a long purple box that spit out photo stickers. I’ve been hooked on photography ever since. I love telling stories that get personal and challenge stereotypes in feminism, art, conservation, and human rights. My kind of travel: My favourite places to explore are bustling, colourful, wildly chaotic cities, and absolutely silent, undisturbed mountain tops.
Megan Iacobini de Fazio Writer Breaking taboos in Zanzibar, Page 56 Atmosphere at Sauti ya Bazara: Magical - it might be a bit of a cliche but I can’t think of a better word to describe the atmosphere. The white beaches, winding alleyways and Swahili vibes help, but thousands of people coming together to celebrate the best that Africa has to offer is what makes the festival so special for me. My kind of travel: A trip with no plans, a journey where nothing is set in stone and anything could happen. Being open to new adventures and to meeting different people is a good reminder that kindness and love are all around.
NOMAD VOL. 5 · AUGUST 2017 · PUBLISHED BY WEBSIMBA LIMITED, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. MANAGING DIRECTOR MIKUL SHAH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF CATRINA STEWART DESIGN BRIAN SIAMBI, RACHEL MWANGI IT KELVIN JAYANORIS DIGITAL FAIZA HERSI SALES, MARKETING & OPERATIONS GILBERT CHEGE, KUNALI DODHIA, YANIV GELNIK, DANIEL MUTHIANI, SEINA NAIMASIAH, JANE NAITORI, HADDY MAX NJIE, MICHELLE SLATER, DEVNA VADGAMA, JOY WAIRIMU, RUTH WAIRIMU, WINNIE WANGUI, VANESSA WANJIKU CONTRIBUTORS ADRIAN BLOMFIELD, TAMARA BRITTEN, HARRIET CONSTABLE, MEGAN IACOBINI DE FELIZIO, RACHEL KEELER, MORRIS KIRUGA, WANJIKU MUNGAI, SAMANTHA DU TOIT, FRANCES WOODHAMS CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS APEX PHOTO SAFARIS, BIJAL/TEEKU PATEL/SOKOMOTO IMAGES, FRANK DE JONGH, HUMPHREY GATERI, KIM GJERSTAD, CLEMENT KIRAGU, TATIANA KARANJA, JOE MAKENI, WILLIAM NGARI, RACHEL REED, BRIAN SIAMBI SALES ENQUIRIES CALL NOMAD 0711 22 22 22 EMAIL INFO@NOMADMAGAZINE.CO
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
JOE MAKENI Instagram @joemakeni I took this image at 5.15 pm in the Maasai Mara during a game drive while testing out the Canon EOS 760D with the EF-S 18-135mm lens. My settings were 1/1000, f7.1, ISO of 400. Iâ€™d have prefered a lower angle but the tour van we were in was pretty high. I used an ISO of 400 to allow me a higher shutter speed as the lions were moving a lot.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
WILLIAM NGARI Instagram @namuks I took this from the rooftop of the After 40 hotel in Nairobi at around 6.30 pm. The best time to shoot is around 6-7 pm where you either get the golden (sunset) or blue hour (transition between sun going down and nightfall). My settings were f13, 25 secs, ISO of 100. I used the Canon 5D Mark IV and the 16-36mm F2.8 II lense. The number one tip I would give other than nailing focus and exposure is to make sure that you get unique compositions to your image. Decide whether the buildings will be the main focus or the sky.
HUMPHREY GATERI Instagram @nairobiphoet I shot this on the shores outside Sarova Whitesands Hotel at 6.08 am before the sun had risen. The camera was set on a tripod, with a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds at f11, an ISO of 100 at 11.5mm. I took it with a Nikon D7100 with a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I like to capture a different perspective. My tip is to look for good light, especially when it comes to landscape shots.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
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In a spot of positive news for Eritrea, UNESCO has designated the capital, Asmara, in its entirety as a World Heritage site. Few visitors make it to Eritrea, a country more associated with repression than tourism. Because of stagnant economic development, Asmara still retains much of its 1930s futurist Italian-built architecture that has earned it the moniker of “Little Rome.” But will its new status make it any easier to go there? Sadly, there are almost no direct flights from the region (Sudan Airlines operates, but has no flights to Nairobi), with the easiest way of reaching this closed country from East Africa to fly via the Middle East.
TURMOIL AT KWS
Kitili Mbathi [pictured], the banker turned conservationist, has resigned as director general of the Kenyan Wildlife Service after a little more than a year in the job. Reasons for his sudden exit remain unclear, although media reports have claimed he was opposed to a restructuring of the national conservation body that would have resulted in layoffs. KWS chairman Richard Leakey, who has not commented publicly on the reasons for Mbathi’s departure, congratulated him for leaving the organisation in a much improved financial state from that when he started. Julius Kimani has been appointed acting DG in his place.
ISIOLO GETS NEW AIRPORT
President Uhuru Kenyatta officially opened Isiolo International Airport in late July. The new hub, it is hoped, will open up access to northern Kenya, both for business and tourism. Although scheduled flights have not yet started, two domestic carriers - Fly SAX and Fly 540 - have already opened offices there, and are expected to start operations soon. Initially, the $16.4 million airport will serve as a domestic hub, but there is a plan to open it to regional flights. It will, the airport authorities said, be able to handle 125,000 passengers annually. It is still awaiting final approval from the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority.
TANZANIAN VOLCANIC ERUPTION PREDICTED
An active volcano, 70 miles from Arusha in northern Tanzania, is showing signs of an imminent eruption, according to geophysicists. The 7,650-foot Ol Doinyo Lengai, known locally as Mountain of God, has been quietly shuddering, indicating that parts of the volcano are moving upwards, reported the National Geographic, which funds a sensoring programme at the volcano. An eruption could potentially pose a threat to Lake Natron, as well as important early sites of man’s footprint at Olduvai Gorge, 70 miles away, particularly if it were to coincide with rains that could carry the debris further. It is the only volcano known to emit a lava that flows faster than a person can run, and experts say ‘imminent’ could mean an eruption within weeks, months, or over a year. In 2007, the volcano emitted an ash that spread 11 miles.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
THE CBA AFRICA CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE September 24, Ngong Racecourse
Vintage car enthusiasts gather every year for this popular event, organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, drawing huge crowds of spectators as well as competitors from all over the world. The main event is the judging of 70 classic and vintage cars, and 40 motorcycles, but there are plenty of other things going on too, from a child’s entertainment centre, fly pasts and live bands. The theme this year is ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ www.concourskenya.com
MARALAL CAMEL DERBY
31 August - 3 September, Maralal
1-3 September, Jinja
It’s the camel derby again! Saddle up, and take part in the most bruising race of your life. Every year, a mix of professionals and amateurs perch atop their steeds, and go for it across the desert scrub of northern Kenya. Professionals battle it out for top place, while the ‘visitors’ will be lucky to make it to the finishing line at all, given the wayward nature of their mounts. Anyone can enter, and you’ll be assigned a camel by a handler. The date was correct at the time of going to print, but is subject to change. We would also recommend travellers seek up-to-date security advice before making travel plans.
Uganda’s premier music festival is back for its third year on the shores of the Nile, bringing a line-up of more than 200 artists that includes Cameroonian singer Reniss, South African artists Cruel Boyz, international artists, such as Peter Power, as well as a host of Ugandan groups with a twist on traditional music. Increasingly, it’s becoming the festival in the region, not only because of its magical setting on Africa’s mightiest river, but because it consistently attracts high-quality up and coming performers. Head over for an authentic celebration of African music. www.nyegenyege.com
WHERE WILL THEY BE? On August 8, Kenya goes to the polls. We asked our contributors, past and present, where they will be over the elections.
“I’ll be on a road trip across several counties and voting centers, reporting on the elections. I am an avowed non-voter, so I’ll be sitting this one out as well as I travel instead. I don’t even have a route yet.” Morris Kiruga
I’ll be in Cape Town with my family because the food and wine are amazing, there is plenty to keep my five-year-old busy, and thanks to the devaluation of the Rand and the South African winter, we can afford to stay there an extra week or two in case the election doesn’t go quite as well as we all pray and hope it will. Rachel Keeler
I’ll be in Lamu. We’ve chosen Lamu for three reasons: firstly, my boyfriend is from the island, and has to vote there. Secondly, I believe Lamu Island to be one of the most peaceful parts of Kenya. And thirdly, who doesn’t want to soak up the sun, bask in the ocean and gaze at palm-fringed beaches whenever opportunity allows? Tamara Britten
I became a journalist to feel closer to history as it unfolded, so there’s nowhere I’d rather be for election time than Nairobi. These are important times and we are privileged to get a front row seat to the messy but fascinating democratic process. Laura Secorun
I’ll be right here in Nairobi. I left Kenya just before I turned 18 for university, so this is the first time I’m able to vote, which is exciting! I’m planning to go straight to the polling station at a ridiculous hour, and then go straight back home to watch election updates with my family. Wanjiku Mungai
BOOKS WE’RE READING
TOMORROW I’LL BE TWENTY
THE GIRL AND THE SUNBIRD
Alain Mabanckou A Man Booker International Prize finalist two years ago, this very funny book charts the childhood of Michel, a 10-year-old, living in Pointe Noire, Congo, in the 1970s. Inspired by the books his father brings home left by white guests at the hotel where he works, he and his friend, Lounés, dream about faraway lands. Against the backdrop of unfolding international crises and girl troubles, Michel is told by a witchdoctor he must find the key to his mother’s womb if she is to have another child. His quest is to find it.
Rebecca Stonehill Written by our very own contributor, The Girl and the Sunbird is an epic sweep beginning with a feisty young girl’s arrival in East Africa in the early 20th century to marry a man she has never met, and who quickly turns out to be a poor match. She strikes up a friendship with a local teacher, and they embark on a forbidden relationship with devastating consequences. The story takes the reader on a journey from early colonial Kenya, to the time of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, where the heroine makes an unexpected discovery.
VENTURE TO THE INTERIOR
Laurens van der Post Classic and compelling account of van der Post’s explorations in Nyasaland (modern-day Malawi). After being tasked by the post-war British government with finding out more about two mysterious mountainous regions he embarks on a journey into the massif, where weather patterns are unpredictable and calamities can arise in dramatic fashion. Beyond the gripping outward exploration aspect, the book is also an exploration of van der Post’s inner journey, switching from his time as a Japanese prisoner of war, to his reflections on race in colonial Africa.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
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KAGWE MUNGAI Wanjiku Mungai catches up with singer and music producer Kagwe Mungai to talk about his surprise at finding a male fan base in Nakuru, getting booed at a gig in England, and embracing his African roots.
When was the last time you were on the stage? I was just in Machakos, as part of my tour to seven cities in two months. It’s exhausting but I was glad because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the time to go out there. People in Nairobi are ‘cool;’ they love you but they don’t want to show it too much because you’ll get bigheaded. Outside Nairobi it’s like: people screaming, chasing. It is a little scary - you’re seeing flashes and it’s dark. There was a time I had to run into a car [because] my hair was being pulled. The love is overwhelming, which is great. I love it.
family in a Kenyan accent. So then when I had my friends sleep over, I would get so confused. How did music happen? My Mum says I used to sing myself to sleep. At the end of 2009, I went to Southampton to study Music Production and Operations Management. In High School, I had been a bit of a rock star, and then I went there and was the bottom of the barrel and met people who were so much better than me. I had to reinvent, grow, start again, and that forced me to hone in on my production. By the second year, I was tutoring; the third year I was in production and I found my group of friends that were from all over the world, which was such an amazing experience and the main reason I wanted to study abroad. I did a lot of growing in those three and a half years, travelled to a lot of open mics and tested my material. I got booed at a Kenyan event in Coventry. I was the last one to perform and people had eaten nyama choma and started chanting “Go home!” over and over again. My Mum taught me a long time ago you can’t ever run away from a fight, whatever that fight is, especially if the fight is brought to you. So I just told the DJ to keep going and kept singing.
PHOTO TATIANA KARANJA
Are there things that have surprised you during this tour? Yes, Nakuru had a huge male fan base, so it was surprising to see all these guys getting rowdy to my music. Sometimes you go with specific expectations and the place doesn’t meet them or exceeds them. Kisumu was very impressive. People in Nairobi assume that people living upcountry are not informed, but they’re very switched on, especially the Uni students when it comes to the elections. Nairobi is a bubble, and it’s very different from any city in Africa that I’ve travelled to. We’re very isolated in some ways and it’s easy to forget you’re in Africa. You have Muthaiga and the country clubs, and not too far off you have Githurai, two extremes, but both Nairobi. And neither of those [sections of] Nairobi understands the other fully. Where do you identify with? I don’t know. My upbringing was all over the place. My Mum had a job that forced us to travel quite a bit. I lived in Johannesburg, went to university in Southampton. Before that we lived in Jamhuri, which in the 1990s was a bit run down. We moved to South Africa when I was 10. I hated it. All my friends and family were in Nairobi and they took me a year back in school because of my age. I was also one of three black people in the entire school, which
was very jarring. Later on, I looked back and I understood conversations I didn’t understand at the time. I also encountered this later on in Uni: your blackness makes you either feared or cool, sometimes a mixture of both. Like, “Oh My God I can’t mess with that guy and I’m kinda scared of him but he’s so cool!” My accent also changed very quickly, it became a little more South African, a lot of “yahs” and “shame.” I’d go to school and that’s how I’d talk and then I’d come home and talk to my
What has been your most memorable travel destination? New Orleans was art everyday. It was beautiful, the food was so rich - so much seafood, jambalaya. And the culture - you leave your room and there’s a guy playing a tambourine with a baby strapped to his chest. It really made me feel African. Outside of the French quarter, you’re so aware that you’re different, and that just reminded me that I’m African and that I should always embrace it. That’s not to say that I am just African, I am the culmination of my experiences. It means celebrating our culture in everything that it is, with its flaws and all, and understanding that these flaws may not even be flaws, just things we’ve been told are flaws.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
A KENYAN TRAVELLER
CONFESSIONS OF A DIGITAL NOMAD Morris Kiruga is all for living in the moment on his travels, but preferably not without a good Internet connection and access to Instagram.
t’s almost 10 am, and my article is going to be late. I am sitting in a Cruiser parked somewhere on a hill in Machakos, plugged into one of the sockets behind the driver. I have 1,000 words ready to roll, but one problem for which there is no other solution than cursing and ranting. Internet. A good internet connection, that is. It’s the middle of Capture Kenya 2015, a Safaricom road trip that brings photographers and writers together to make stories for the next year’s calendar. That’s the larger brief, the smaller one is that I have to file at least one story every day and pepper the internet with stories from the road, and photographers have to send in images every evening. We need internet to do that, and as we move further and further away from Nairobi and other urban centres, internet connection falters, and then in some places, all but disappears. In Machakos, it’s failing me, and I don’t know whether to pull my hair or start singing. Even loading a page is taking more time than the gestation period of an elephant. You know that thing they say about seeing someone using slow internet before you marry them? If you saw me now, you would definitely return the engagement ring. I’ve been in worse places with worse internet connections and even when it wasn’t such an assignment, it was still tough to deal with. I am all for living in the moment, soaking in each travel experience for its reality, but that can happen, too, even if you have a good connection. Then all that soaking in the moment is a decision, not a condition. Because
I am one of those infamous millennials who continually ask, “If you travel and there is no internet to post photos online with, does it still count?” For people who are paid to travel, like yours truly, getting online and selling a location is often in the fine print. So the assumption is that the destination has WiFi, and dependable WiFi at that, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you just facepalm and take multiple images of a glass of rum with a backdrop of a watering hole, and make a note to post it later. I’ve heard stories of people making it all the way to a destination only to leave when they discovered there was no internet. Whenever I travel to such places, I while away the time picking the manager’s brains on the need for internet in the wild. Only one so far has been a safari purist, arguing that people travel that far to get away from everything. No discussion around how checking your Instagram while you sunbathe next to a pool is the dream of the modern traveller could win him over. “Why would you come this far to see all this wonder through your phone camera?” he says. “We are collecting memories, curating them for ourselves and the world,” I respond. “You young people don’t live in the moment anymore,” he says. “But we do,” I add, wearing my smarty pants mask, “and we force others to live them with us. There’s nothing as emotionally satisfying as posting images of a lakeside breakfast at Lake Elementaita on a Monday morning, and making everyone else jealous.” He didn’t find this funny, so I moved onto another topic. I hadn’t even reached the point
where the best part of it is people running over themselves to comment “Utarudi tu” [“you will come back”] on the image. Home has really become where the WiFi is. After a long sojourn in internet-free places, there are few things as satisfying as finding a good connection, whether it is on the road to civilisation or at the airport. That’s me almost missing my flight at Julius Nyerere International Airport after a few days with a weak connection in Selous Game Reserve. That’s also me standing on the spot on the walkway to get connection, forgetting the manager’s advice to watch out for hippos on a stroll. I am not even working, I am merely recharging. I normally hate notifications, but out in the wild, mentions on Twitter and supplies from my meme dealers feel and smell of home. We are digital nomads now. Whether it’s a mother who needs to relax but still do some work and make sure her family is fine, or a socialite who needs a break but not from Snapchat, the modern traveller is tethered to the internet. It’s where we work, play, connect and fight. It’s where we post photos of wine on a speed boat in the middle of Lake Victoria, or of an oasis in Loiyangalani. It’s where we write stories of our Nairobi nightlife, as we move from drinking beer at lofty bars to eating boiled eggs at the side of the street at 3 am. We chronicle our lives through our internet connection. My name is Morris, and I am a digital nomad. Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
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NOTES FROM THE BUSH
READING THE MORNING NEWS Living alongside wild animals can be fraught with danger and frustrations, but for now Samantha du Toit embraces the age-old dance between man and beast.
ook Mummy, I am jumping into the elephant’s footprint!” exclaimed Seyia, as she explored the banks of the river with her little brother in tow. “I can’t even see Taru when he is in it!” she
giggled. As we watched them playing on the river bank, neck high in mud, I marvelled at the proximity with which we are living with nature. In the early mornings on our way to breakfast, we ‘read the morning news’, etched into the dust on the paths in the camp. We often see tracks of our nocturnal visitors and Seyia, now almost six, is learning how to distinguish between the leopard or the hyena tracks, the mongoose and the genet, the snake or the monitor lizard. If one of us is lagging behind, we circle the best sets of prints for the others in the family to notice and then we discuss the ‘news’ over breakfast. In the heat of the day, we sometimes see our shy male bushbuck coming down to drink at the river, scaring away the flock of guinea fowl resting in the shade, who take off with loud squawks of annoyance. Lions call frequently from across the river in the early mornings, sometimes waking us up. And in the evenings, the resident troop
of baboons makes their way back up river towards our cottage from their time foraging, and often the children are back down at the river, making miniature farms in the mud, or digging for treasure. The two sets of primates used to watch each other with mutual trepidation, but now they are all so familiar that they ignore each other for the most part, which again is fascinating to watch. Yesterday, going down to fetch the children for their supper, I saw Seyia’s footprints from the day before, now with the tiny tracks of a genet set within them and the bushbuck’s tracks nearby. The daily dance of people and wildlife was captured by a fellow researcher, who put up a camera trap on a path just outside of camp. Left for four days and nights, the camera picked up the Maasai people using the path in the day and baboons foraging. Then at night, the zebra came in to graze, then a lone bull elephant loomed out of the dark, and last but not least, a leopard strolled past. For us, it is nothing but pleasure and indeed part of the reason we live here. However, it occurs to me that in this area, the saying ‘one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure’ might in fact be the other way around. Sitting at breakfast one morning, Joshua, our staff member, explained to us that he had not slept well because a leopard had succeeded in
getting into his boma the night before to attack and kill three of his sheep and goats. As the elephants become more present in the area they seem also to become increasingly brave and sometimes scare the local women away from the river’s edge when they come down to wash. Lions and hyenas often kill and eat cattle if they are unfortunate enough to get lost on their way home in the evenings. And yet despite this, Joshua was cheerful enough. He explained that he had been angry at first, but that this was not the first time and nor would it be the last, and was part of a Maasai’s life. They choose to live side by side with wildlife, and are proud of this, despite the frustrations such neighbours can sometimes bring. And so the story goes on generation after generation. For how long such tolerance will prevail I am sure many may wonder, but I for one hope for the future, and am grateful that my family and I are the lucky beneficiaries of this age-old co-existence. Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
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NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
MARA ON A BUDGET
Budget and safari don’t often go together, still less when it’s the Maasai Mara during migration season. But it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, as Catrina Stewart finds out. PHOTOS: FRANK DE JONGH, BRIAN SIAMBI
he guard has the measure of us. He’s bored, probably hasn’t seen another visitor all day. It’s starting to drizzle, a chilling, seeping rain that reminds me of Scotland where I grew up. As the wind picks up, gusting over the desolate moorland, I wonder what on earth we’re doing here. Brian, the photographer accompanying me on this trip, hasn’t been camping in years, and he says glumly, “I just thought it’d be, well, nicer.” I nod, and briefly consider blowing the budget on the luxury lodge we passed some 20 minutes back. Surveying the rubbish strewn alongside the gate, and the guard who doesn’t seem to want us here, I picture guests staying in lavishly-furnished tents sitting down to a threecourse meal. “Two thousand each,” the guard says, looking speculatively at the skies, rapidly darkening with every moment we dither. “And you’ll need a ranger.” I argue that it should cost 1,000 shillings, and point to the noticeboard with the advertised prices. We’re right, but
argument at this point is futile. We’re at the furthest, most remote edge of the Maasai Mara at Sand River gate, ordinarily a Mecca for the seasoned campers shunning expensive lodges. Although still, barely, in Kenya, I feel as if we could touch the wide expanse of Tanzania and the Serengeti. Like most, I have typically experienced the Mara in a conventional way: flying in, staying at a luxurious tented camp and surrendering my independence for a couple of days to experienced Maasai guides armed with an intimate knowledge of the reserve and the animals within. But a stay in a plum Mara lodge usually requires a hefty chunk of one’s savings. There are ways to slash costs, not least by piling into a crowded minibus with a bunch of sweaty tourists. Or, you can DIY it, driving your own car, picking your own lodges, and even camp. But would the wildlife experience be anything like as good? As my battered Toyota Prado jarringly hit a ditch in the middle of the rock-strewn, corrugated road to the Mara, I mentally counted the cost
of booking the car in for an extended service back in Nairobi. By the time we pulled into the Aruba Mara camp, a campsite a hundred metres outside the Talek gate, the car was making the first of its ominous, clanking sounds that would dog the trip. Neither Brian nor I were particularly expert in pitching tents, and certainly not in the darkness. The first we found to have no fly sheet, the second became a tangled mess. Luckily, I had a couple of spares, and Edward, our Maasai host, quickly took us under his wing, and showed us how the experts do it. Sweat pouring down my brow, I suggested we retire to the bar for some food and drink. “Closed now,” he said. “You should have rung ahead.” Instead of heading out on a game drive the next morning, we watched a mechanic wriggle into position underneath the car, and solder broken parts together. I parted with 500 shillings, and we hit the road again. We meandered through the park, marvelling at the plethora of wildebeest, which had in earlier weeks started their arduous journey to
the Mara, braving the treacherous rivers with gaping crocodiles lying in wait. Spotting big game - particularly the cats - is something of a science. An experienced guide will notice an empty clearing where droppings indicate that plains game were recently grazing, and surmise a big cat might be lurking in the undergrowth nearby. We had no such innate sense, and instead used our observation skills to spot a cluster of minibuses that might suggest something interesting nearby. En route to our our next night’s lodging, Julia’s River Camp, a budget lodge situated in a prolific wildlife-viewing part of the reserve, we lost our way. The Mara is short on signs, and maps are of little use when dozens of unmarked tracks criss cross the plains. It was 7 pm, and dark, not a twinkling light to be seen, and we were driving around in circles. The wildlife was the least of my worries - far more concerning was the prospect of a zealous ranger catching us breaking the golden rule of never driving at night. I called the lodge, and James, the manager, asked us to describe where we were. “Um,
It was 7 pm, and dark. The wildlife was the least of my worries far more concerning was the prospect of a zealous ranger catching us in the reserve at night. somewhere near the river, but it has opened out a bit,” I faltered as a hyena slunk in front of our headlights. “Stay where you are,” said James, “and we’ll drive out to find you.” The next day, I asked a ranger who to call
if lost in the Mara at night. “You shouldn’t be driving in the reserve at night,” he admonished. “I know that,” I said, “but say you do get lost, and it gets dark, who do I call?” He looked at me unsympathetically, and said, “You shouldn’t drive in the reserve without a guide if you don’t know the way.” After a night on stony ground, Julia’s offered a spot of luxury. We had a simple dinner, chatted around the campfire, and retired to a fairly spartan, yet comfortable, furnished tent which I didn’t have to leave to go to the loo. The next morning, we ditched the car for a game drive in one of the camp’s vehicles. I hadn’t yet seen any cats, and I wondered if a budget safari means economising on the wildlife experience. But my doubts were soon dispelled. James stopped the car, and smiling broadly, said, “Cheetah.” We watched the group of male cats prowl just metres away from the vehicle. As I fiddled with my camera, James whispered, “Watch, they’re going to hunt.” All my adult life I have dreamt of seeing a cheetah give chase, reaching the incredible speeds (100 kph) that make it such a successful
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
MARA predator. And now we watched breathlessly as a cheetah launched itself into the chase at full pelt, the wildebeest in its sights vainly trying to outrun it. Within moments of the kill - while the cheetah were still catching their breath - a pair of hyenas arrived on the scene, and snatched the wildebeest from under the cheetahs’ noses. They burrowed their snouts in the unfortunate beast, tearing at chunks of flesh, bone and entrails, raising their blood-coated faces only to snarl at the gathering vultures and jackals, all longing for a bit of the kill. What we’d witnessed was the whole, bloody spectacle of death in the Mara, with not a minibus of tourists in sight. Later, we hit car trouble again, the near front wheel starting to emit a high-pitched screeching sound of metal on metal. A colleague holidaying in the Mara texted us excitedly, giving us a blow-by-blow account of the wildebeest crossing the river, crocodiles snapping at the beasts plunging ungainly through the surging waters. Come quickly, she urged, while it’s still going on. But the car was going nowhere, and nor were we. “I can’t believe we’re here during the migration and we missed it,” I muttered to Brian. The mechanic patched the car back together - and we were ready to go. By now, it was 4 pm and prime game viewing time. But we were pressed for time and whizzed past grazing wildebeest and zebra, a herd of elephant, intent on reaching Sand River before nightfall.
FIVE WAYS TO CUT COSTS IN THE MARA
1. Travel in low season, particularly January to early April, when lodge rates are slashed across the Mara. Avoid peak season times such as the great migration in July and August, and the Easter and Christmas holidays. 2. Stay outside the park to avoid paying extra in park fees, and for a wider range of budget options. 3. Self-drive and camp. If camping is your thing, this is undoubtedly the cheapest way to experience the Mara. There are several public campsites in the Mara Reserve, and the adjacent Mara Triangle. Beware, though, that extras, such as rangers for security, or guides hired at the gate, can start to push up costs. The journey can also be tough on your car. 4. Join an organised tour. A plethora of travel companies, some more reputable than others, offer budget trips of two or three nights from Nairobi, with discounted accommodation options. Others, such as Jumia Travel, also offer discounted lodge rates. 5. Visit travel fairs, such as the one at Sarit Centre every spring, to bag good deals from hotels and lodges. Check out lodges’ websites, too, for special deals outside of peak season.
PHOTO: BRIAN SIAMBI
Sand River Campsite
And so here we were, at the ends of the earth - or so it felt. After his lukewarm welcome, the guard led us away from the gate to a charming spot under a tree on the river bank, and our spirits started to pick up. We pitched our tents and huddled next to a campfire, set up by the rangers who would keep us safe for the night. I awoke early, and surveyed our surroundings in an entirely new light. The sun started to edge its way over the horizon, spreading a golden, ochre hue over the boulders and surrounding moorland. Hundreds of campers before us had woken to the same view and I started to appreciate why Sand River is considered one of the country’s more magical wild campsites. Back at the gate, we fell into an argument with the guard, who refused to give us a receipt, saying he had none. As campers and guard eyed each other warily, each of us knew that he had charged too much, but we also knew he would never admit it. As we left the reserve, however, we appealed to the warden, and were refunded the difference. A minor spot of corruption did little to spoil the mood. We may not have been the best-equipped campers, but waking on the edge of the Mara to a view that few get to see will stay with me. Money assuredly buys fine food and a comfortable bed. But does it have the monopoly on an experience? I’m not so sure.
WHERE WE STAYED
SAND RIVER CAMPSITE
On the outer edge of the park is this magical camping spot, overlooking the Sand River. Don’t be put off by the grumpy rangers, or the untidy area around the gate: campers are taken about 500 metres downriver to a shady and attractive clearing, offering staggering sunrise views. The downside is that it’s in a corner of the reserve with less prolific predator viewing, and you’ll need to drive a fair distance back to experience the Mara proper. Camping per person is Ksh1,000 (pay at Sekenani Gate), and rangers to provide security while you sleep are Ksh2,000 each. You’ll be encouraged to hire two.
PHOTOS: BRIAN SIAMBI
JULIA’S RIVER CAMP
This Spanish-owned property in a prime game-viewing area in the northeastern part of the reserve is a real budget find, if pricier than places outside the gate. They offer three different classes of accommodation for varying budgets, starting with the classic tents overlooking the Talek river. These are small and sparsely furnished but perfectly comfortable. Meals are done buffet-style, one dish to suit all, and could be better, but the firepit lends a cosy and camplike atmosphere. Rates start at $91 per person sharing, full-board. On this package, game drives are extra, costing $75 for a car and guide. www.juliasrivercamp.com
ARUBA MARA CAMP
The appeal of this popular camp is partly its location, just 100 metres from Talek gate outside the reserve. It also has attractive, shaded areas for camping, and a convivial bar and restaurant overlooking the river. Unfortunately, both were closed by the time we got there, but ring ahead to ensure they stay open. Campsite ablutions were undergoing renovation, so we were allowed to use the very fancy ones attached to permanent tents. Ksh800 per night per person camping, firewood available. Permanent tents start from 25 euros per night, and game drives can be arranged upon request.www.aruba-safaris.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
FIVE THINGS TO DO IN THE MAASAI MARA 1. TAKE A WALKING SAFARI Little beats getting away from the vehicles, and wandering slowly through the bush, and enjoying close (but safe) encounters with wild animals with experienced Maasai guides. Along the way, learn about game tracking and look out for those unusual bugs and creatures rarely spotted from a car. Walking safaris are not permitted in the reserve, but can be arranged in the surrounding conservancies. 2. HOP ON A BALLOON For a totally different perspective, book a hot-air balloon ride. The ride, lasting an hour or so, takes in the vast sweep of the reserve, travelling where the currents take it, before landing for an opulent champagne breakfast.
Rides normally set off before dawn. Ask your hotel to arrange. $450 per person. 3. TOUR A MAASAI VILLAGE Village tours have received bad press in recent years, often criticised as exploitative and unethical. If you do wish to visit a village for a slice of Maasai life, where you’ll learn about making fires with wood, Maasai dancing and culture, consider visiting those signed up to the cashless-ticketing scheme in the Mara Triangle and elsewhere. Tickets can be purchased at your lodge (if part of the scheme) or from KATO through your tour operator. 4. GIDDY UP It’s now possible to do short riding safaris in the Mara, which for a rider with some
experience can be a thrilling experience, offering the opportunity to gallop alongside animals at close range through beautiful country. Ride Mara, through Great Plains Conservation, offer morning or afternoon rides, lasting around two hours, while companies such as Offbeat Safaris and Safaris Unlimited offer longer riding safaris lasting several days. Ride Mara charges $250 a ride. 5. ENJOY A SUNDOWNER Head to a high point with your tipple of choice to relax and watch the sun slowly set over the Mara. Lodges will have their own regular spots for sundowners, but if you’re self-driving, try Lookout Hill, or pretty much any high point with a view looking west.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
OF THE BEST HIGH-END LODGES KSH20,000 AND ABOVE
For some, an African safari has to be done properly, and that means luxury, fine food, and an exceptional experience, almost always accompanied by a suitably wallet-shredding price tag. It’s hard to narrow down the list to just six, but we’ve selected our pick of the finest properties on offer.
COTTARS 1920S SAFARI CAMP, OLDERIKESI
* Prices given are for residents in low season.
MAHALI MZURI, OLARE MOTOROGI
For those with deep pockets, look no further than Mahali Mzuri, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s newish camp in one of the thriving conservancies to the north of the reserve. Guests stay in tents with a decidedly modern twist, opening onto a private veranda with staggering views. Every detail is considered, from your own set of binoculars to sunscreen. The conservancy offers an exclusive gameviewing experience. Full board, including game drives and conservancy fees. $415 pp sharing, kids go free. www.virginlimitededition.com
For the ultimate yesteryear safari experience, look no further than Cottars 1920s. In keeping with its name, the lodge offers six 1920s-style white canvas tents, sumptuously furnished with the trappings of another era. A butler is provided with each tent, and guests can also enjoy a pool for down times. Thanks to its location on its own conservancy, guests can also enjoy night game drives to spot lesser-seen nocturnal animals. Resident rates start at Ksh28,119 per person sharing, all-inclusive of food, drinks and game drives. The conservation fee is Ksh2,320 per person. A newer bush villa, sleeping six, starts at Ksh277,725. www.cottars.com
SARUNI MARA, MARA NORTH
This is a lovely property in the hills with themed rooms with private decks. The Observatory cottage, for instance, sports as a vintage brass telescope and moon map; the artists’ cottage a painting on an easel and paintbrushes, and the photography cottage … well, you get the picture. For honeymooners, there’s the Love Shack, a secluded cottage furnished in classic style. Starts from Ksh23,940 per person, all-inclusive, including drinks and game drives. Conservancy fee is Ksh2,320. www.sarunimara.com
ELEPHANT PEPPER, MARA NORTH
At this low-impact, hosted camp, you feel like you’re in the midst of the bush, with animals wandering through at will. It’s safe enough, though, with askaris always on hand to escort guests, and watch over little ones as their parents dine. Tents are well-appointed, fitted out with ‘Indian Raj’ furniture and brass wash basins and pitchers. The tents afford terrific views over the plains. An evening campfire helps foster interaction between guests, something often lacking at more exclusive camps. Ksh23,000 per person sharing, full board, including game drives. Ksh2,000 conservancy fee. Children 5 and under go free, although it’s not suitable for very young, free-ranging children. www.elephantpeppercamp.com
REKERO, MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE
Established by the Beaton family, this seasonal nine-tented camp is among the more established in the reserve, and offers an unrivalled location from which to view the annual wildebeest migration in all its messy glory. This camp is particularly renowned for its skilled guides, and Jackson Looseiya, of BBC Big Cat Diary fame, used to guide out of Rekero before establishing his own camp. With the camp being unfenced, children five and under are not allowed. $200 per person sharing, full board, including game drives. www.asiliaafrica.com
NGARE SERIAN, MARA NORTH
Finally, for those with money to splurge, this riverside lodge is one of the Mara’s most exclusive and intimate camps with just four tents, elegantly constructed with hardwood floors and a sunken bathtub on the veranda. This camp is reached by bridge from sister camp Serian, and guests will have acres of conservancy, privately leased by the owners, all to themselves. For something a bit different, guests can spend a night in the Nest, a treehouse for true romantics. $640 per person, all-inclusive. Conservancy fees cost Ksh2,700. www.serian.com
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BEST OF THE REST KSH19,000 AND BELOW
There’s a perception that the Mara is pricey, but there are a few mid-range and budget gems that don’t force you to economise on comfort (too much, anyway). If you’re looking for exclusivity, though, you’ll have to pay. With so many places to choose from, it’s tricky to whittle the list down to just six, but here’s our pick of the rest.
GOVERNORS, MAASAI MARA RESERVE
The slightly cheaper option to Governors’ other properties, this camp is longestablished in the Mara, situated in an area of the reserve that is teeming with wildlife. Comfortable tents are erected along the river bank, and the bar is a popular spot for watching wildlife well into the evening with, if you’re lucky, a hippo passing through. Guiding here is particularly good, and it’s surely one of the better of the mid-range options. Prices start at $177 per person, full-board, inclusive of game drives. Drinks are extra. Guests flying in must book with Governors Aviation. www.governorscamp.com * Prices given are for residents in low season.
MARA NGENCHE, MAASAI MARA RESERVE
Classy riverside camp near Talek gate, with tents, set a decent distance from each other, furnished with four-poster beds, free-standing bathtubs and open showers. Each tent comes with its own plunge pool to cool down during hot days, particularly appealing if it gets too warm in the tents during the dry season. Ksh14,000 per person sharing, full-board, excluding drinks. Game package costs Ksh19,000 per person. Children under five go free. www.atua-enkop.com
MARA INTREPIDS, MAASAI MARA RESERVE
This is a popular family option, and situated in a prime game-viewing area to the north of Talek Gate. It has a shadier, cooler feel to it than some, which isn’t to everyone’s liking, but it has pretty luxurious tents, including family accommodation, with hardwood floors and elegant furnishings. Ksh9,500 per person sharing, full board, excluding drinks. A grand package with game drives starts at $175 per person. Children under two go free. www.heritage-eastafrica.com
MARA MARA SERENA, MARA TRIANGLE
This is one of only two lodges situated in the Mara Triangle, and guests can enjoy a slightly more exclusive feel to the game-drive experience. On first inspection, Serena’s pod-like structure seems a little otherwordly, and the inspiration is a Maasai manyatta, but it is magnificently appointed to overlook the plains below with a terrific viewing deck. The 70-plus rooms are designed to catch the best of the views, too. Starts at Ksh11,000 per person sharing for full-board. They don’t offer a game drive package unless you book flights, too, so game drives are charged at Ksh4,500 per person per drive. www.serenahotels.com
MARA SIRIA, OUTSIDE THE PARK
The real draw of this place is the quite staggering view. Perched on top of the Siria escarpment, it overlooks the vast area of the Maasai Mara reserve. The tented lodge is not in the reserve itself - but on its Western border - but guests there will truly get a sense of being in Africa. Tents of different classes come equipped with double beds and safari showers. Full-board starts at Ksh10,950 per person sharing, or Ksh18,500 pp for the full package, including game drives. www.mara-siria-camp.com
SEKENANI, MAASAI MARA RESERVE
This cute camp is a big draw for budget groups, but don’t let that put you off. In low season, it’s a quiet and enjoyable place to spend a couple of days. It has small but comfortable safari tents, accessed via a rope bridge. Best of all is the campfire ambience in the evening. Full board starts at Ksh7,500 per person sharing. There is no game drive package, as most guests drive in, but a guide can be arranged. www.sekenani-camp.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
THE MIGRATION IS HERE! Do not miss out - book your front row seat now!
The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular natural events that can be witnessed. Millions of nomadic wildebeest migrate between the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara along with thousands of zebras and antelopes. This spectacle is at its peak when large herds of wildebeest, zebras and antelope gather on the shores of the crocodile infested Mara River.
AF I AR
Your professional partner for: P. p./night, full board, from ... 13,950 KES 3 Days/2 Nights Packages, per person Flying Package .................... 78,500 KES Road Package (min 4 p.) ..... 37,500 KES
Exciting Safaris Incredible Beach Holidays Sightseeing & Tours Airline Tickets & Charter Flights
• Only 12 tents and 2 cottages
Transport & Car Hire
• Amazing views over Mara River and plains
Conferences & Incentives
• Flexible game drives in Mara Triangle up to full day drives with packed meals
• Migration experienced driver guides • Open-sided 4x4 vehicles for unobstructed game viewing
Visit our offices at Village Market and United Nations Crescent, call us or book online! email@example.com, www.facebook.com/phoenixsafaris, Tel. 020-765 00 66, 0721-650 889 We also offer remote payment options e.g. bank transfers, credit cards or M-Pesa payments.
Prices are per person sharing a double room and valid until 30th September for East African Residents.
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
BOOK YOUR SPOT IN THE FRONT ROW! The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular events: Millions of nomadic wildebeest migrate between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. Once safely arrived in the Masai Mara during the months of June to July, the wildebeest move further to graze the endless and plentiful lush green plains. It is also their mating season. The dominant bulls give out a very distinct calling sound through their nose. They fill the plains - in numbers and in sound. The spectacle is at its peak when large herds of wildebeest gather on the shores of the crocodile infested Mara River in the Mara Triangle. Getting ready to cross the river the herds grow more and more agitated, crocodiles move in place patiently while other carnivores stealthily wait on the other side for a meal opportunity. When the nerves become overwhelming, some wildebeest jump in the river, triggering a mammalian avalanche pouring down into the Mara River. Prey comes face to face with predator - survival for the fittest. Many visitors only want to see the famous river crossings but the true spectacle of the migration are more than 1.2 million wildebeest, a million Burchell’s zebra and Thomson’s gazelle and about 20,000 eland filling the entire stretch of landscape. The shifting columns of the herds as they traverse the valleys and the hills can only be watched in awe. There is nothing else like this on earth.
End of October, when most of the grass in the Mara savannah has been eaten, the wildebeests prepare to move southwards towards the Serengeti. Scientists believe that the old wildebeest can sense water up to a distance of 50km away using lightning and thunder as the guiding light. These patriarchs will urge the herds onwards in search of water and greener pastures. And yet again begin the cycle of life. Mara Siria Tented Bush Camp & Cottages is the perfect choice for an authentic safari experience. Perched on top of the Siria Escarpment the eco-friendly camp offers absolute stunning views. With only twelve tents and two cottages individual service for every guest is guaranteed. The camp is not fenced and antelopes, zebras and other animals often stop by to graze or to quench their thirst at the nearby waterhole. Facilities include a lounge, a restaurant, a wine cellar and a plunge pool. Guests can enjoy “Out of Africa”-style
bush meals and sundowners with spectacular backdrops. Game drive activities range from early morning drives with breakfast out in the savannah (starting just before sunrise, enjoying the chilly air, the calm atmosphere and the opportunity to witness predators either hunting or feeding on their prey) to full day game drives - including a picnic lunch – until dawn. All in the Mara Triangle along the Mara River! Book your front row seat with Phoenix Safaris – we offer Road and Flying Packages that suit our guests’ needs.
BOOKING CONTACT Phoenix Safaris Village Market & United Nations Crescent (opp. Hse 175) Phone: 020-765 00 66, 020-50 10 200 Mobile: 0733-26 16 46, 0722-650 889 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.phoenix-safaris.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
PICTURE PERFECT There’s no shortage of great wildlife photographers, but reaching that level requires skill and patience. Catrina Stewart heads on a photographic safari in the Maasai Mara in search of a shortcut to success.
ower your ISO, lower your ISO!” Er, what, I mean, how? Before I know it, the leopard, who we have been observing for several minutes now, is scrambling up the tree, hauling a slain wildebeest between its paws. It’s the most extraordinary feat of sheer strength, and we are lucky to witness it. My first couple of photos are almost white with overexposure. I have only seconds to fiddle with the knob to get a shot worth capturing. In the end, I get what I think is a passable photograph. But then Aatish Patel, tutoring me in getting that perfect shot, looks at my last couple of pictures, and I can tell he’s not that impressed. A thick skin helps when offering up your photographs to this kind of scrutiny. Most clients spend six days or more perfecting their shots with Aatish and his twin brother, Aashit, on photographic safari in the Maasai Mara. I have just an afternoon. Amateur snappers come back year after year to the Mara to go out on safari with the brothers, both trained as professional guides. From an early age, they’ve spent long periods in Kenya’s most famous national reserve, and these days spend most of their time there. Their clients range from those starting out, to experienced photographers looking to hone their skills. “Most of our clients come here with these big cameras, and they don’t know how to use them,” says Aatish. First off, I get a quick tutorial in camera basics. We rattle through aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity (ISO), the three
things any amateur must master. Meanwhile, Samson, our guide, has spotted some potential subjects, and deftly manoeuvres into position above a ford, where wildebeest crowd a small crossing point, milling alongside the zebra. It is a pretty scene, but hardly the stuff of award-winning shots. In a situation like this, says Aatish, “you have to be a bit creative.” He shows me how to adjust my shutter priority (the TV knob on the camera) to a slower speed of 1/16, reducing the animals to a blur. “Focus on the head, and keep clicking,” Aatish instructs. My next attempts are better. A rather boring zebra scene is transformed into something more unusual: a zebra, partially blurred, its head almost in focus. This is more like it. Photography is, suggests Aatish, less about technical skill, than spotting the unusual. The shot he is most proud of is of a vulture, soaring in on a kill, its wings outspread. “The cheetahs were eating, we’d seen it many times,” he recalls. “So we started observing the vultures coming in to land.” Meanwhile, I have a burning question. Do great photos start out great, or do they get a bit of the Photoshop treatment? “With guests, we try to do as much natural photography with only a little post-processing,” he says reprovingly. For editing, he says, he prefers Lightroom. “It lets you make small adjustments, whereas Photoshop will let you manipulate the photo.” I look at my shots, and consider that they need a whole lot more than a little adjustment. But for now, I’m just going to have keep practising.
TIPS FROM THE BROTHERS FOR THAT PERFECT SHOT: 1. Understand your gear: It is really important to know the ins and outs of your camera equipment i.e. where all the buttons and dials are for changing different settings such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance, changing focus points and modes. 2. Use the rule of thirds while photographing backgrounds. 3. Study the subject: Anticipating and having the ability to read the behaviour of certain subjects is key to getting that picture perfect shot. 4. Lighting is very important while shooting wildlife. Work hand in hand with it. 5. Take a stock photo: A stock photo will really help the photographer in adjusting their settings on the camera in order to get the perfect shot when the subject decides to become more active. 6. Be patient: When photographing wildlife, anything can happen at any moment. It requires a great deal of patience to know and anticipate the next move of your subject. 7. Carry an extra battery and memory cards. 8. Cover lenses to protect from dust. We recommend a shower cap or pillow case. 9. Carry more than one camera body, especially when going for an action shot as it’s not an ideal situation to begin changing lenses. To enquire about photographic safaris with the brothers, contact Apex Photo Safaris on www.apexphotosafaris.com Guiding fees start from $250 a day. Accommodation is extra.
Situated in the Greater Mara just outside of the Maasai Mara National Reserve nestled in between the “Double Crossing” in Olare Orok, Amani Mara Camp calls one of the most pristine locations in the Reserve – home. With absolutely no fences or barriers that limit your bush experience, Amani Mara offers the most authentic Mara experience possible surrounded by an abundance of wildlife. Amani Mara Camp, Masai Mara Email: sale’email@example.com www.amanimara.co.ke Phone: 0704505053/0723479868
YOUR GUIDE TO THE MIGRATION BY TAMARA BRITTEN
PHOTOS: FRANK DE JONGH, BRIAN SIAMBI
The annual wildebeest migration is the event in the Maasai Mara. In July and August, the most popular camps and lodges are more or less fully booked, and the Mara is crammed with tourists eager to catch a ringside seat at the greatest wildlife show on earth. What we know as ‘the migration’ is in fact a cyclical movement of animals that takes place annually around the Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania. In constant flow, with no real start or end, the animals move around the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, an area of approximately 40,000 square km. Around 1.5 million wildebeest are involved, along with 350,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 200,000 zebras and 12,000 eland. As they pass through the territories of big cats and crocodiles, many meet a grisly end in the jaws of these vicious predators. While no two migration cycles are the same, there are some features of the animals’ movement that recur year after year. After the long rains of April and May, in about June, the
MARA animals start moving north into Kenya, crossing the savannah plains and rushing rivers of the Mara. During this time, they mate, and when they start to move south again around October, about 90% of the females are pregnant. At the southern tip of this immense circle, the birthing starts; in January and February between 300,000 and 400,000 calves are born. After the rains, when the calves are ready, the animals start moving north again.
OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY
Perhaps the most dramatic moments in this great migration cycle take place during the crossing of the rivers, and none more so than the crossings of the mighty Mara River. Crossings can take place at different locations and in different months. There are, however, a few crossing places that insiders know to watch: some crossing points just keep on luring the animals into the water.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When the animals start massing on the banks of the river, or a little way from the river, and their numbers build up, it’s always worth watching and waiting. Park a little distance from the herd so as not to interfere with the natural dynamics of the animals, and take your time. Stay inside the car and make as little noise as possible. And wait. When the numbers of animals in the herd build up, and they appear agitated, stick around: you may well be treated to the extraordinary sight of them plunging into the water and pitting their wits against the waiting crocodiles. TOP TIPS: Bends in the river often build up pressure in the herds and cause the animals to cross. And they often choose places where there’s not too much cover for the predators to hide. Although on occasion, they’ve been known to plunge into the river in places that can only be described as suicidal. POPULAR CROSSING POINTS: • Mortuary, also known as Cul-de-sac, or even Mortuary Cul-de-sac, often attracts the animals when they’re crossing the river on their way south, heading back towards Tanzania. • Main Rocky Crossing is so called because its gentle and wide slope down to the water attracts large herds year after year. • Lookout Crossing lies directly beneath Lookout Hill, aptly called because it’s one of the highest points in the Mara • The Peninsula is a sharp curve in the Mara River in which lies a narrow finger of land that forces the animals into a narrow crossing, often of prolonged duration.
Map of Mara ©Gamewatchers Safaris. Gamewatchers Safaris owns the boutique Porini Camps, and is a Kenya-based tour operator specialising in tailor made, eco-friendly safaris. Contact www.porini.com for detailed advice, itinerary quotes and to book your safari.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
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A VET’S LIFE Asuka Takita, a Japanese vet in the Maasai Mara, talks to Tamara Britten about her passion for a job where one day is never the same as the next. How did a Japanese lady end up in the Mara? I studied zoology in the USA, where I grew up. When I came to Kenya at the age of 21, I worked for a year and a half at Mpata Safari Camp in the Mara. It was then that I fell in love with Kenya, and knew I had to come back – but I wanted to do something other than tourism. I returned in 2001 and discovered there’s such a thing as a wildlife vet, under the jurisdiction of the Kenya Wildlife Service. So, I studied at Nairobi University for five years. What was your first job here? I started a vaccination programme for local dogs in the Mara. And my assistant still does that work, vaccinating about 8,000 dogs a year against rabies and canine distemper. These diseases are a major issue where the community lives close to the reserve. In 1996, around 1,000 lions were killed in the Serengeti because of canine distemper, which crossed from the local dog population to lions. How did you move into anti-poaching? Living in the Mara, you see what a major threat poaching is to our wildlife. Many think bush meat poaching is just subsistence poaching but it’s not. There’s a massive commercial bush meat industry. It costs more than beef. The poachers are highly equipped with knives, spears, poison arrows and snares made from specialised, heavy-duty wire. These snares are indiscriminate – they can catch lions and elephants, as well as anything else. It’s a slow death, and the animals often die of septicaemia. What do you do to combat that? To combat the bush meat trade, we do antipoaching patrols and snare retrieval. We
also do night ambushes. If rangers see a sign, maybe bush meat put out to dry, they set up an ambush. And we use tracking dogs. Tell me about the dogs. The project started in 2008. We’ve caught about 150 poachers using dogs since the start of this project. On top of this, the dogs do ‘arrest assist’, where they show us the way the poacher went using behavioural techniques. How did the project start? Before this, I knew nothing about tracking. I thought sniffer dogs were the same as tracking dogs. Now I know that sniffer dogs find items, while tracking dogs track people. When my boss asked me to start a tracker dog programme, I went on the internet and started sending emails to people who had done tracking – and no one replied. Then one lady got back to me: Linda Porter. Linda, with her husband John Lutenburg, has been in canine work in the USA for the last 40 years. She later said of receiving my email, “I get lots of emails that are completely crazy, but yours was the craziest. I said to my husband, ‘John, do you want to catch poachers in Africa? and he said, ‘Sure.’” And how did it progress from there? We sent Linda money to purchase the puppies, without ever having met her, and she trained the dogs for free for six months. Then she came to Kenya with two dogs and we finally met. She warned me that tracking is complicated. But you went ahead with the project. How did it go? We had several setbacks. The dogs trained in the USA were really good in their home
environment, but completely freaked out when they smelt elephant, lion and leopard. We learned that we had to breed and train our own dogs in the Mara. The rangers were afraid we wouldn’t need them any more when the dogs started working – they thought the dogs would steal their jobs. So at first, none of them would call the dogs. But we explained that dogs are like guns – they need people to handle them. Now the rangers understand, and they’re happy to work with the dogs. So how do the dogs find the poachers? Watching dogs is fascinating. You can visualise what they’re smelling by how they’re moving. They’re tracking human scent, but also ground disturbance, where the grass has been crushed and rocks turned over – these make specific smells, all of which disappear at a different rate depending on sun exposure. When time has passed, dogs lose the scent on the plains with short grass faster than they lose it in the long grass; then they start casting: moving from side to side. When the track is wiggly, they’ll track on the opposite side of it from the wind. After several hours, when the scent has grown faint, they’ll start moving further and further from the track, wiggling around, searching to find the scent again. My job is to have the dogs stick closer and more accurately to the actual track through daily training. It sounds like you love your job. If you work in the bush, it’s work, work, work – I never even know what day or time it is. When I come back to Nairobi for a rest, I miss the Mara and want to go back. In the Mara, you never know what’s going to happen next. I don’t even know what I’m doing next week – and I love that.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
A VANISHING LAND t’s 1976 and the land is open and wild. Seven-year-old Bijal “Teenu” Patel is concentrating harder than any boy ever has, the butt of a bolt action 303 rifle squeezed into the crook of his armpit, crouched quietly in the grass, staring at his first zebra. He’d been practising for months, camping most weekends here with his family, pitching tents under the shade of ancient fig trees, and swimming in the clear water of the Sand River. His father, Dinesh Patel, a tracker and photographer would be lining up film roll cartridges on ant hills for him to aim at from 200 metres away. He would listen to his father and uncle tell stories around the campfire, like that time Dad hitchhiked the length of the Nile. They would name the animals, trace the shapes of their paws, learn to walk carefully through the bush, granting a wide berth to the buffalo and elephant bulls, wait in the still heat to catch a leopard on camera, feeling like the only humans in Eden, save for the lone Maasai driving his cattle home against the red setting sun. Bijal takes aim and - boom! hits the zebra straight through the shoulder and into its heart. Yes! Now comes the tough part, his father says. “The first animal you shoot, you have to skin it.” Are you serious? So the kid starts with the belly, slits it, pulls out the guts, the stinking steaming part-digested piles. Why did I shoot this animal, he moans. The body is huge, a grand beast - a horse! Why didn’t I find something smaller - oh, to have shot a gazelle… “That’s one of my fondest memories,” Bijal says. “We still have that zebra hide at home.”
This is how Kenya’s Maasai Mara began - a remote reserve flanked by hunting blocks on the northern tip of Tanzania’s Serengeti. Flights arrived at most twice per week. Communication was by UHF radio. It was the place writer Ernest Hemingway admired for its unspoiled possibility. “It was just raw,” Bijal recalls. “What you saw was the land itself, pristine, untouched, virgin land. You could smell it. Dust in the dry season. And then, with the first rains, that earthy pungent smell.” Bijal was born in Aitong, a village at the northeast corner of the Mara plains set along saddleback hills through which a rugged, dirt road runs, impassable in the softest of rains. If one drives into the Mara from Nairobi, something not many do anymore, the Aitong Hills are the park’s back door. Descending through brush and craggy Ballanite trees loved by leopards, low jungle opens into grasslands dotted with giraffe, zebra and impala. Bijal and his brother Teeku grew up playing in these fields, memorising the tracks and landmarks, more in tune with animals than humans. Living in Nairobi, the Patel family escaped to the bush every chance they got. Dinesh trapped large cats for the Game Department, mitigating early rounds of human-wildlife conflict. Bijal recalls the spit of a hissing leopard on the back of his neck as he, his father and uncle transported the predator in their pickup. His great grandfather came to East Africa as a tobacco farmer. He was robbed, and died young. Dinesh’s father, scarred, rejected the land to become an accountant. Dinesh joined the British army and worked in the family business, but his heart was in the wilderness, where he made his name as a leading wildlife
photographer and conservationist. With three generations born in Kenya, the family saw nearly a century of development. The Mara’s protected land area has grown in that time, thanks to private conservancies run by Maasai communities who see value in tourism. Ironically, their success has driven profits into more cattle in need of more land. Hundreds of cows now line the northern edge of the public reserve, camped in muddy bomas buzzing with flies. Two Maasai were once found eaten down to the bone by lions after grazing their cattle illegally in the park after dark - an event that went officially unmentioned, but a practice which may well crowd out the famous migrating wildebeest. The once nomadic Maasai have also begun to settle. The area where the Patel brothers played is now marred by motorbikes (“Chinese gazelle”), fences and steel roofs that glint like fake diamonds in the sunlight. Unlicensed camps are proliferating in the reserve, alongside thousands of visitors snapping smart phone photos of the Big Five. Everyone says something drastic must be done, but no one seems to know how to make it happen. “It’s the same old story,” Bijal says. “It starts off, you love this place, this is paradise, this is where I want to retire, buy some land here, build my little cottage, and I’ll die there. But now, it has been completely ruined and over exploited.” Bijal and Teeku do their part, crafting custom safaris for conservationists who want to connect with the animals in the ways of the past. Their style clashes with the Maasai economics and Disneyland safaris that dominate today’s Mara. Nonetheless, they share the place together trekking through borrowed land, on borrowed time.
PHOTOS BIJAL/TEEKU PATEL/SOKOMOTO IMAGES.
The Maasai Mara of Bijal Patel’s childhood was a rare kind of Eden, where he came to hunt, track, and listen to his elders spin yarns around the campfire. It was the place where he imagined he’d live out his days, but as the years marched on, the Mara he knew is changing beyond all recognition, writes Rachel Keeler.
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MY KIND OF MARA Clement Kiragu, wildlife photographer, talks about why the Mara remains his favourite place to work.
MARA I love the Mara. It’s simply magical and I am at peace there, The vast, beautiful landscapes, the variety of flora and fauna, make this a great destination, especially for photographers. It’s hands down my favourite place to photograph. I have created my most amazing images there.
There is more flexibility for wildlife photographers in the reserve. In some conservancies, you can’t apply for an off-road licence, meaning you only see the animals close to the road. And the wildebeest crossing happens in the reserve, that is where all the action is.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
Conservationists warn that Kenya’s most celebrated game reserve, plagued by mismanagement and overpopulation, is living on borrowed time. Could privatelymanaged conservancies hold the answer, Catrina Stewart writes.
t’s early dusk, and large herds of cattle are making their way into the reserve. Everywhere can be heard the tinkling of bells, the mumble of herdsmen, the lowing of cows. The cattle, tens of thousands of them, will graze all night, and leave before the tourists charge out from their lodges at first light on a game drive. The nightly incursions are just one manifestation of an unfolding crisis, triggered by decades of mismanagement, that is threatening the Mara, Kenya’s most precious conservation asset.
The problems are myriad. Over the past two decades, lodges and camps have proliferated inside and on the borders of the reserve, and shanty towns have expanded and encroached on the Mara ecosystem. With the increase in the human population, so, too, have cattle numbers exploded - herders are bringing as many as 50,000 cattle into the reserve every night, trashing grazing grounds. “It is a real free-for-all,” says Brian Heath, whose management company runs the Mara Triangle, as well as the Mara North and Naboisho conservancies adjacent to the Mara. “There is a perception that if things continue the
way they have for the last 10 years, then the Mara’s days are numbered.” A sense of foreboding hangs over one of the world’s greatest wildernesses, and some now question whether the Mara can survive. In colonial times, the Mara was a favoured trophy-hunting ground before its formal creation as a national reserve in 1961. It was only when Tanzania closed its border with Kenya in the 1970s that the Mara, an afterthought for safari-goers on the way back from the Serengeti, emerged as the premier safari destination that it is today. Tens of thousands of visitors descend on
MARA the Mara every year, drawn by the sheer exuberance of the wildlife. The plains teem with game, stalked by lion, cheetah and leopard. The natural theatre is at its most vivid in July and August, when over a million wildebeest make the perilous journey north from the Serengeti to the golden pastures of the Mara in the greatest terrestrial show on earth. But, as Jonathan Scott, a wildlife photographer and presenter on the BBC Big Cat Diary, points out: “What you see is superficial. It’s only a veneer that all is well.” For many years, nomadic Maasai herders and predators existed in an uneasy equilibrium, but as communally-owned group ranches were sold off and subdivided into individual plots, the Maasai became more sedentary, erecting fences that cut off migratory corridors and breeding grounds. The tolerance towards predators that had hitherto existed was no longer there. When it started in 1996, Big Cat Diary helped put the Mara on the map. The longrunning television series charted the fortunes of the Marsh Pride, bringing the much-loved lions into households around the world. But where wildlife and livestock compete, inevitably there is conflict. “One of the hardest things the Marsh Pride has gone through is [human] population growth,” says Jackson Ole Looseiya, a co-presenter on the show, and the reserve’s best-known guide. “The area between the reserve and Marsh Pride territory is communal land. They [the lions] are constantly in battle with the community, killing cows day and night.” In late 2015, the Marsh Pride suffered a devastating loss beyond the reach of the camera crews. Herders, who had lost livestock to the lions, laced a cow carcass with poison, killing Bibi, the matriarch of the pride, and Sienna, a younger lioness. A third lion, Alan, was also poisoned, and later so badly trampled by a buffalo that vets decided to put him down. A handful of lions are killed every year by vengeful farmers. Some of them are speared, others shot, a few are poisoned. For just a few dollars, farmers can buy a cheap pesticide, just a teaspoon sprinkled over a carcass enough to fell a predator. The consequences can be devastating. “If someone poisons a cow carcass, it wipes out a pride, hyenas, vultures, eagles,” says Nic Elliot, who heads the Mara Lion Project, run by the Kenyan Wildlife Trust. Despite boasting perhaps the healthiest density of lions in the world, the Mara’s lions are under pressure. Over four years, Elliot and his team recorded 1,023 lions over the age of one year. In the latest survey, a snapshot of a lion population at a particular time, they counted 420 lions, suggesting a huge number has simply disappeared or died. In perhaps the longest-running study of its kind, a report tied wildlife declines to an explosion in livestock populations. The study, led by Dr Joseph Ogutu, formerly of the International Livestock Research Institute, found that from 1977 to 2016 wildlife, particularly warthog, Thomson’s gazelle and giraffes, had declined across Kenya’s rangelands by an
For just a few dollars, farmers can buy a cheap pesticide, a teaspoon sprinkled over a carcass enough to fell a predator. The consequences can be devastating. average of 68 percent at the same time as livestock numbers increased by roughly the same number. Unlike Kenya’s other big game reserves, the Mara remains in the hands of the Maasai, or rather the Narok County Council. Its management is questionable: suspect deals with politicians have been a key driver in the surge of lodges, while there is little transparency on how the millions generated from tourism every year go back into the communities. On the frontline is the Mara’s head warden, Samson Lenjirr, a committed conservationist, who describes himself as little more than a figurehead in the fight to protect the reserve. Asked why he doesn’t do more to stop the cattle incursions, he spreads his hands helplessly, and says, with some understatement, that he has almost no resources with which to do so. “We have thrown them out a number of times, and we fine them,” he says of the cattle herders. The herders know that it is illegal, he says “but they hide behind political patrons.” In times of drought, herders brought their cattle into the reserve, but now it is a nightly, even daily, occurrence. Julius Njotich, who is herding dozens of cows one afternoon to a salt lick deep in the reserve, brings his cows in every night, despite losing more than 60 head to predators, mainly lion, in the past two years. “If they stop us, we will have to sell our cattle,” he says. “The Maasai depend on animals. If we can’t use the reserve, it will be a huge problem.” If there is hope for the Mara, it arguably lies with the conservancies, created out of the communal group ranches that were parcelled off into individual plots. Since 2006, 14 conservancies have been created, spanning a size almost the same size of the 580-squaremile reserve. The more established are now verdant, undulating savannahs favoured by lions where game viewing is an intimate affair. Tourism stakeholders lease land off Maasai landowners for a monthly fee, and in return allow cattle grazing on a rotational basis.
Beds are limited to one tent, or two beds, to 700 acres, and no more than four or five vehicles can view an animal at any one time, a far cry from the reserve, where as many as 20 minibuses crowd round a single cheetah. Lenjirr believes the conservancies have thrown the reserve a lifeline. “The only thing saving the Mara today is the rise of conservancies,” he says. “If there were no conservancies, the Mara would have become a megazoo.” But it’s still early days for the conservancies, and a number of smallholders have opted out, particularly those living on the border of the reserve, complicating efforts to create a contiguous wildlife catchment area. There is also a suspicion that those landowners, barred from rangelands now part of the conservancies, are those most likely to graze their cattle in the reserve. Much also depends on the ability of the tourism stakeholders to continue providing the Maasai with sufficient financial incentives - not just during the good times - to dissuade them from putting their land to alternative use. Inducements to encourage the Maasai to reduce their numbers of cattle in favour of better-quality herds are under discussion, but it will take time to change an age-old perception among the Maasai that cows confer status, and the more the better. Meanwhile, patience at the top is running out. Daniel Sopia of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association says there is an open discussion in high-level circles about wresting management control from Narok County. “If the county government cannot address the issue of cattle incursions, and [lack of] management plan ... there will be a need to bring in outsourced management,” he says. “I would champion for an independent management company to manage the game reserve, free from political interference.” He adds: “I’m very certain that it’s in the pipeline.” It seems almost inconceivable. Kenya Wildlife Service chairman Richard Leakey, a veteran conservationist, has previously ruled out such a move as fraught with political challenges, although outsourcing to private management is perhaps more palatable to local leaders than drafting in the KWS. There is a precedent. In 2001, the Transmara council, which controls the Mara Triangle, the eastern part of the reserve, invited Heath and his team in to manage it. The place “was on its knees,” says Heath, wracked by poaching, cattle theft and worn bare. Within 16 years, its rangelands have been completely regenerated, the roads rebuilt, and revenue goes back to the community. Big cat viewing there is equal to if not better than the reserve. It has been, conservationists broadly agree, a huge success. Whether it could be a model be rolled out across the Mara remains uncertain. Much will depend on whether Governor Samuel Tunai is re-elected, and makes good on his pledges to turn the situation around, says Heath. If not, he adds, “there comes a time when someone has to do something about it.”
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
DRIVING THE LOITA HILLS pole - Magadi Mara - Loita Hills - Shom
This month, the road trip series heads south. Catrina Stewart wonders if itâ€™s possible to drive across the Loita Hills, and sets off to find out how.
PHOTOS: BRIAN SIAMBI
he map of Kenya pinned to my wall shows an inviting dotted red line curling from the Maasai Mara to Shompole via the Loita Hills. I wondered: is it really possible to take a direct route across the hills from the Mara to Lake Magadi? On Google, all I could find was information about walking treks, taking several days. Yet, that red line was there, and I felt strangely drawn to it. I rang around. Was it possible, I asked, to drive across the hills? The answer seemed to be a resounding ‘no.’ Even if you could drive, one said, parts of it crossed private land, making access tricky. Another spoke of a “barely motorable” road on an online forum. My guide book said, “don’t even think about [it].” I had started to research other options, when I thought I’d give it a final shot, and contacted a community group down in Shompole. The man I spoke to said airily, “Oh yes, it’s possible. I do it often.” By far the easiest way, he said, was to come from the Mara across the Loita Hills, and down the Nguruman escarpment. Not only were the views perhaps the finest - stretching to Lake Magadi and Lake Natron to the south - but it was not as tough on the car as going up. I won’t say I wasn’t nervous: the car wasn’t in the best shape. While in the Mara, we had had problems with the brake pads, and there was a mysterious clanking noise that wouldn’t go away, and, frankly, I wasn’t sure that I was a confident enough driver. And then of course, we still had to cross private land, permission for which we did secure. Should we be doing this road trip for a magazine, I pondered, if others couldn’t easily retrace our steps? Musa, who had agreed to guide us through the Loita, met us at Narosura, a little town in the foothills. He did little to allay my fears. Pointing to Brian, the photographer, he asked me: “You’re not the one driving, are you?” Yes, I am, I said. He let out a high-pitched squeal of horror. “Even I find that road hectic,” he added, “and I do it all the time.” By now, I was in something of a state. Jumbled thoughts raced through my mind: I hadn’t filled up with petrol, my brakes might fail, I might get stuck, or drive the car off a cliff. “I know you’re scared,” said Musa in a belated attempt to reassure me, “but it’s not so bad. It’s just the escarpment that’s steep, but as long as your brakes are ok, you will be fine.” The road wound out of Narosura towards the hills. We passed trucks laden with tomatoes, donkeys lugging firewood. Steadily we climbed along a picturesque red dirt road. Musa pointed to the peaks rising above us on the horizon. “How do you think you’ll get through that?” he asked. No idea, I smiled. Yet with each passing mile, I grew more confident, more relaxed. Meanwhile, Musa chattered. He had driven tourists across this route before, he said. Hearing that gave me hope that it might not be so bad. But as we approached the first of three makeshift checkpoints, I wondered how we would navigate this if alone. A Maasai
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
man, dressed in colourful robes, leaned over the wound-down window, and requested a fee to pass. Musa had a rapid-fire conversation with him before we were back on our way. “They could charge you up to 2,000 shlllings a time,” he said. We wended our way through several villages, houses made of mud and sticks, until suddenly, round a bend, we found ourselves at the top of a jagged track, treacherous rocks threatening to slash my tyres, and a steep descent to boot. “Uh, should I go into low ratio,” I asked. But Musa insisted I could go down in first, and deftly guided me through it. “You think this is bad. You should see the escarpment,” he said, letting out a deep laugh. The Alpine-like route wound through thick forest, across river streams, and at times petered out to little more than a piki-piki track, and I wondered at times how it was possible to stay on the road. In a valley below us, a river with sandy backs snaked through the forest. Above it, water cascaded down a steep ledge into a stream below. “There’s a tricky bit coming up,” warned Musa, as we approached another ford. “Keep it in first, and don’t stop.” Ahead lay the first of several boulder-strewn extensions of the road and I inwardly thanked my ageing car as we
Jumbled thoughts raced through my mind: I hadn’t filled up, my brakes might fail, I might get stuck, or drive the car off a cliff. lurched over the rocks to the top. We never did drive over the peaks, but instead through the pass before finally reaching the private farmyard through which the road down the Nguruman Escarpment leads. A conversation ensued between Musa and the farm director, and we assured him that we had sought permission in advance. Finally, he waved us off with a man to unlock the gate at the bottom of the escarpment. This was the part of the journey I had most feared. But in the end, it wasn’t so bad.
Steep, yes, but not especially rocky. The road dramatically overlooked the vast Shompole plains, and Lake Magadi glittered in the distance. We had done it, and yet it was something of an anti-climax. Later, over a drink at Soralo research centre, I described our trip to one of the researchers. “Oh yes, I’ve done that road,” he said. He was strangely dismissive of our adventure, and I finally realised that the difficulty had been all in my mind. The dirt road from the Mara’s Sekanani gate to Narosura takes about three hours. A couple of kilometres out of Narosura, take a left, and head into the hills. It is a fairly straightforward route, although a guide is advisable to navigate the “checkpoints,” and the areas where the road peters out. To the top of the Nguruman escarpment from Narosura takes about two and a half hours, and it’s a 30-minute drive to the foot of the hills. Turn right for the road to Lake Magadi, doable in under an hour and a half. The road down the escarpment passes through private property, and it is necessary to seek permission from the landowner before taking this route. Contact Soralo (www.soralo.org) in Shompole for assistance and advice.
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EXPRESS RIDE TO THE COAST Harriet Constable takes a ride on the new Nairobi-Mombasa train, cutting the journey to under five hours. The creaky ‘Lunatic Express’ that used to ply this route has gone, but will the new train have anything like the charm?
t’s 7 am and I’m on the back of a boda boda, winging my way down the Mombasa road towards Nairobi’s shiny new railway station to take the long-awaited Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train to Mombasa. After 40 minutes of cutting through the traffic and hanging on to my boda rider for dear life, I decide this should not be called the ‘Nairobi Terminus’ but the ‘Somewhat Out of Town Terminus that is a Real Pain in the Ass To Get to for a 9 am Departure.’ This is not the first time my boda driver Wycliff has visited the station for me. With no online booking or telephone system at present, getting tickets in person is the only option. I discovered all this only after a series of long-winded phone calls to Kenya Railways and Facebook messages with those who had already taken the trip. So, my mood is somewhat sour (I can’t feel my bottom) as I arrive at the huge new station with its sleek grey structure and fancy glass walls. Through the two stages of security I go – both involve bag checking and frisking – and up the escalators into the bright, clinical
waiting room. It’s now 8 am, and the train departs at nine. At 8.45 we’re called through to the platform. Elegant women in smart uniforms stand at the entrance to every carriage: smiling, checking tickets and welcoming people on board. Excited passengers are examining the carriages, storing their luggage in the overhead racks, taking selfies and commenting on how clean and spacious second class is. It’s true – the train is very nice. Comfortable seats, spacious walkways, clean toilets. For some reason though, I’m starting to feel somewhat uneasy. I can’t quite put my finger on it and then it hits me – everything is so organised. Where are the passengers clambering across the tracks, or leaping aboard when the train is already moving? Where is the floral dining cart with the clattering crockery and dodgy soup? In short: where are the things that made Kenya’s original Mombasa–Nairobi railway line, so delightfully charming? I’m beginning to resent the Chinese construction company that (very expensively) brought Kenya’s railway system into the modern day and at the same time helped it lose all its
yesteryear appeal in one clean sweep. Gone is the Lunatic Express, the British-funded line built in the 1890s at great financial and human cost that emerged as one of the world’s great train rides. Despite the train’s many faults - long delays and ageing, dingy interiors, where my legs stuck to the cracked leather seats, and hot, dusty air poured in through the windows, it was magical. This new train is air-conditioned. It’s dull. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the other passengers don’t seem to share my nostalgia for the rickety old train. They settle into their seats, and at 9 am on the dot, we jolt off towards Mombasa. Just as I was beginning to think all sense of personality had been omitted from this new line, the speakers in our carriage crackle into life, playing tinny 1990s power ballads over the mellow hum of passenger chatter. Yes! And there’s more: along the journey, we’re given little updates on what we’re seeing out of the windows or the place we’re about to travel through. Emali, apparently, is “a town that never sleeps due to its vibrant nightlife, and is a popular truck stop for drivers coming to or from Mombasa.” We snake through hundreds of miles of
PHOTOS HARRIET CONSTABLE
scrubland, past small clay houses, narrow dirt tracks disappearing into the distance, donkeys grazing in the hot sunshine and kids herding cattle. Occasionally, we run parallel to the steady stream of trucks slogging their way down the Mombasa road, before the train veers away into the terracotta landscape mottled with green trees. In our carriage, a sliding screen informs passengers it is 32 degrees Celsius outside. At Tsavo National Park, passengers stand up to try and catch a glimpse of some wildlife, children pressing their faces up against the glass windows. Soon after, we have to pull in to let the train coming in the opposite direction pass. The reaction from the carriage as it speeds by is brilliant – everyone, and I mean everyone, leaps up and erupts into cheers, clapping and laughing like their favourite football team had just scored a goal. The scrubland turns to sand, palm trees and neatly-cultivated luscious farms - a sure sign we are nearing Mombasa. Our train pulls into the strangely elaborate Mombasa Terminus at 1.49 pm – 20 minutes after it was scheduled to arrive. Still, the whole journey took just under five hours, knocking an impressive eight hours
off the journey time on the Lunatic Express. We’re still about an hour out of Mombasa at this terminus, and I have a flight to catch, so I hop in a tuk tuk and wind through the traffic-filled, polluted streets of Mombasa to the airport. By 4.40 pm, I’m in the air, and by 5.45 pm, I’m back in Nairobi, on the back of another boda boda, heading home. It may have cost a fortune to build, and it might not have all the charm of the old Lunatic Express, but the new SGR is smart, not totally without personality, and most of all, quick.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Journey time: 4.5 hours. The train currently only makes one stop - at Mtito Andei - en route to the coast, but additional stations will be added in the coming months. First class: Ksh3,000. Seats in first class are more comfortable than in second. They recline, and can swivel all the way around so you can sit in pairs or as a group of four facing each other. Second class: Ksh700. Seats in second class are in clusters of four or six, with a small table in between. Tickets: They are released three days in
advance from the Nairobi Terminus. Advance booking necessary. Passengers, or a representative, must pay for and pick up tickets in person. Where: Nairobi Terminus is at Syokimau SGR terminus is 30 minutes from the CBD, beyond the airport. For those coming from central Nairobi, Kenya Railways offers a shuttle service, a train departing Nairobi’s central railway station every day at 7 am to the Syokimau terminus. For passengers arriving from Mombasa, it leaves Syokimau for town at 1.30 pm. Mombasa Terminus is at Miritini, about an hour’s drive from central Mombasa.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
BREAKING TABOOS IN ZANZIBAR
onning brightly coloured kangas and headscarves, several women take their place around a large, bright room, furrowing their brows as they tune their instruments. Vibrant laughter, the quivering sound of the violin, the rhythmic thumps of the percussions and the hypnotic hum of a female voice chaotically compete with each other, until the appearance of Mariam Hamdani in the doorway brings the cacophony to a halt. The women, ranging in age from their early 20s to the mid 60s, watch as Mariam, a heavyset woman with greying roots and tips red with henna settles behind the qanun, a large zither-like instrument, plucked like a harp, and wait for her instructions. Sure enough, a few minutes and several commands later, the diverse instruments and sounds have merged into one, beautiful symphony. This is one of the last rehearsals for Tausi Women’s Taarab in Zanzibar. The coming week will be taken up with several performances, some on the terraces of opulent hotels, others inside the walls of the 400-yearold Arab Fort, where the island’s Sauti za Busara festival takes place every February. Watching them play with such ease and confidence, it’s hard to believe that less than a decade ago all of this would have been impossible. This group of women represents a revolution in a very traditional art: they are the very first all-woman taarab orchestra in Zanzibar. Taarab, which in Arabic means to reach a state of ecstasy through music, began as a largely elite and male-dominated art form, and was first introduced in Zanzibar in the late 19th century when ruler Sultan Seyyid Barghash bin Said brought over a taraab ensemble
from Egypt. As taraab spread in the region, it soon acquired a Swahili character of its own. Instruments like the qanun, the violin, the cello, the oud and the accordion were incorporated into this musical form and by the 20th century, women were allowed to join the groups. “But they were never allowed to play instruments” says Mariam, “They only sang the chorus.” The groups would often perform at weddings, but as tourism began to flourish on the island so did the offers to play in new hotels. “Women preferred to sing at exclusively female celebrations or weddings, but they didn’t pay well enough to compete with the hotels,” recalls Mariam. So the men began performing for tourists, and the women found themselves without instrumentalists. With meagre pay and no musicians to accompany them, taarab women groups had slowly died out by the early 1990s, Mariam says. Until 2009, that is, when Mariam decided to revive the art-form. “I thought, ‘No, this can’t be. We need to try and fill the gaps’,” says the 73-year-old, who was the first female news reporter in Zanzibar, working for Russian news agency TASS. “I was very stubborn in my time, and they wanted to sack me for reporting on things they didn’t want me to. But I told them, I will criticise whom I want, whether they like it or not.” Mariam’s face often breaks into a broad smile, but her demeanour is one that commands reverence. When she speaks, people listen. She visited schools and workplaces in the hope of finding women willing to join her group. Initially the response was underwhelming: none of the women she approached showed any interest, and some even scorned her idea. “I came back disappointed. I had already bought a lot of equipment: violins, accordions, bongos. It was a lot of money,” she says.
But one morning, just as she was about to give up her search, Mariam woke up to find over 20 women waiting at her door. Within a week, those who were interested had committed to the project and started practising. They never imagined that only seven months later they would be performing in front of thousands of people on the main stage in Sauti Za Busara. Since then, Tausi Women’s Taarab has played in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Beirut and Mayotte, a small French island in the Indian Ocean. Despite an enthusiastic reception, it has been an ongoing struggle to keep Tausi alive, and many women have had to leave the group. Mariam says, “We often lose some of our greatest talents to marriage, as their husbands stop them from continuing their music careers.” There are also still doubts within the community about whether women should be allowed to play instruments at all. “A lot of people are opposed. They say it’s anti-Islamic, that it’s haram [forbidden],” says Mariam, who is also a devout Muslim. “But I always ask them: show me the verse that says this is haram. They cannot do it, because there isn’t one.” Simply by being part of this ensemble, this remarkable group of women is pushing boundaries and challenging norms in a traditionally male-dominated society. But they go further than that: through their lyrics, they confront topics usually considered taboo, such as domestic violence and drug abuse. “I want our music to have a social message, too, and maybe help change things on the island. We are not happy when we hear about women getting beaten by their husbands, or young girls getting pregnant and having to leave school,” says Mariam. “We are trying to do something to change that.”
PHOTOS: RACHEL REED
The first all-woman taraab ensemble on Zanzibar is challenging traditional norms, and bringing a social message, too. Megan Iacobini de Fazio meets Mariam Hamdani, the woman who started it all.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
At 33,350 square kilometres, Salonga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest, and yet many have never heard of it. Home to the bonobo, a highly-sexed and endangered species of great ape, as well as species thought to be unrecorded in modern science, it is only accessible by boat, or by light plane. Nomad talks to Oliver Nelson, Salonga’s Park Director between February 2016 and February 2017, on what it’s like to manage one of the world’s most remote and unprotected parks. 58
PHOTOS KIM GJERSTAD, TATIANA KARANJA
“ACCIDENTS HAPPEN IN CONGO.”
CONSERVATION How did you end up in Salonga? I was working in Myanmar as an interim Conservation Manager when the job [at Salonga] was advertised. As they had got through three previous park directors who didn’t last long, I knew it would be a tough gig but then I have always been up for a challenge. The Amazon is the largest forest national park in the world, and Salonga is the second. The Amazon is being eaten away, Salonga isn’t. I thought this is a fabulous opportunity to put my mark on a hitherto undeveloped national park, but it was daunting because of the access, the complex politics and the very large number of staff. How do you get there? You spend up to a week in a dug-out canoe, or fly in by aircraft. There are no roads. That’s what has protected Salonga: it’s inaccessible. It’s an area of forest so large that it’s virtually unexplored. It’s probably the last place in Africa that hasn’t been thoroughly explored. What resources did you have? There were 300 eco-guards [rangers], and 300 members of the Congolese army under my control. We also had a $30 million budget [over five years], which was extraordinary. It’s a co-management agreement between the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Because the capacity of ICCN is quite low, WWF was invited in to co-manage. I was recruited as a full director of ICCN with the full authority [it entails]. On paper, anyway. Why such a large budget? Salonga National Park is of huge importance. When everything else goes pear-shaped in central Africa, and the [African] forest is lost, the Salonga will be the last refuge for Central African wildlife. Salonga holds 10 percent of DRC’s forest elephants, 40 percent of the world’s bonobo population. We suspect there is a whole plethora of unrecorded species: birds, amphibians, insects, reptiles. We had a butterfly expert come in who on his first day thought he’d found two new species of butterfly never recorded before. Do tourists visit? There was not one tourist in the time I was there. The park isn’t geared up for tourism. One of our plans was to promote pioneering hard-core expeditions but you’d have to be tough. There’d be medical evacuation available, but you’d have to carry all your own food and camping equipment. But if you did, you could claim in all honesty that you were of the few who’d ventured in there. Tell us a little about the communities living there. I spent my first five days on a dug-out canoe visiting various sectors of the park. The deeper you get, the more isolated and undeveloped it gets. There’s a heavy-handed police presence. I went to a very isolated village, where a contingent of police greeted me in full riot gear, with rocket launchers. It was very intimidating. It’s about control. There were always stories of extortion, theft, rape and beatings. They were a law unto themselves, as were the Congolese army assigned to the park to control poaching. They did a good job reducing poaching, but in a rather heavy-handed way.
Was there much poaching? Elephant poaching in Salonga is well organised, often by well armed gangs from Kinshasa. We managed to intercept only a tiny fraction of ivory and bushmeat that was leaving Salonga on its way to markets. Dense forest environments are incredibly difficult to patrol and protect and while there are bottlenecks where ivory and bushmeat can be intercepted by park staff, by then the animal is already dead. I realised a large amount of bushmeat was going out of Salonga from the river near the park headquarters on canoes, so I organised a river blockade downstream. I was rapidly informed that all government departments had to be involved - the police, army - and of course they were all involved [in the poaching or trading] themselves. As a result, we had very few results. It was extremely frustrating. How do you effectively patrol a park this big? Most of our patrols were done by river. There were foot patrols, too, of up to two weeks, but sometimes they’d only manage five miles a day, and had to hack through tropical forest. We had many confiscations of bush meat, and ceremonies to burn it. We would arrest poachers with AK-47s, with ammunition got from the army. I had rangers shot and killed, rangers with fingers blown off. It was very dangerous. Most donors will not allow us to spend money on firearms and ammunition, so we had to use old firearms, which barely worked. It’s a dangerous business managing a Congolese national park. Two Western park directors in DRC have had attempts made on their lives in recent years. Did you ever feel threatened? There were veiled threats against my person if I asked too many questions, or was being too effective. Someone influential told me one day: “Oliver, if you ask too many questions, accidents happen in Congo.” I’m used to that kind of thing. It does make you worry though, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I felt was my duty. What were some of the challenges working in Salonga? The eco guards were receiving $60 a month in salary, their managers a little more. We struggled to get enough uniforms and field equipment, and I can only guess at their frustration. With such a large budget, we had to tell them every week, “We are buying tents, uniforms,” but it got embarrassing after a while when the equipment did not arrive. NGO and donor [procurement] procedures are a hindrance. It would take nine months for a consignment of uniforms to arrive. It would be so much better if I or a colleague could fly down to Johannesburg and buy 1,000 shirts and pairs of trousers, and fly them back. One of the biggest challenges was feeling powerless, like a figurehead. In a park that size, how did you get around? Salonga is huge, and divided into seven sectors, each with their own ranger station. If you want to visit one, it can take days or weeks to reach. I wanted each sector to have an airstrip, and we would have one light aircraft, and visit each sector within hours, pay salaries, discuss workplaces, bring in medicine. But the procurement process for a light aircraft was appallingly complicated, and would have taken at least 12 months. There is often a disparity
between what the park management team feels it needs and what the donors or hierarchy think we need. Part of the vision was to build roads into the Salonga, which would help economic activity but also bring in loggers and poaching gangs. So it’s a dilemma. If you open a park up to better access, you risk losing that pristine remoteness. Were there successes? We finally got one of our donors to pay top-up salaries to the eco guards, so it increased to more than $100 a month from $60. It took a long time, and had to be performance-based. Every month, 300 eco guards had to be assessed, and it was a mammoth task, especially when there is very little access to those seven sectors. [After the raise], they were much more motivated because someone had bothered to think about their personal needs. You can’t expect a guard to risk their life for $60 a month. This is not unique to Salonga. Throughout Africa, rangers are asked to do the most dangerous of jobs for very little remuneration. What do you feel was your main achievement? I would like to think my greatest impact was working with colleagues in the park to instil a sense of self worth in being a ranger, and instil a sense of self reliance rather than waiting for someone else to provide it, but by making do. How do you see the future of the park? If we can promote Salonga as one of the last vestiges of unexplored, untouched parts of Africa, we could put Salonga on the map and help to protect it. There’s a vast amount to be done to study fish, insects, amphibians, it just needs experts to spend time there. I see the short-term threat as poaching - bush meat and ivory - and until rangers have more resources and capacity in terms of transport, equipment and personal benefits, that poaching will not be addressed. Long-term, unless the park management team has full authority over strategy and managing its budget, it will not work and a very large amount of donor money will be wasted.
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
A walk through…
PANGANI AND NGARA
angani lays claim to being Nairobi’s oldest African suburb, settled even before the arrival of the railway in 1899 by Kikuyu women, euphemistically known as widows, who had escaped domestic violence or social ostracism in the villages of Kiambu. Many relied on prostitution and selling moonshine to survive. These “widows” would play a vital role in the emergence of early nationalist consciousness, using their wattle-and-daub huts not just to succour the randy but also to agitate against the British. With venereal disease spreading through the young city, the colonial authorities tried to end the boozing and whoring in the early 1920s. Furious, Pangani’s women rallied behind Harry Thuku, the father of Kenyan nationalism, and rioted when he was arrested in March 1922 — a seminal moment in the country’s history. The uprising was in vain. Most of Pangani’s Africans were evicted over the following decade and the district became part of Asian Nairobi as Ngara, its western neighbour, already was. Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Catholics from Gujarat, the Punjab and Goa gave the area a joyful raucousness that can still be felt today, even if the Asian presence there is much diminished. Our suggested walk (best navigated via Google maps) starts at the Pangani Mosque, built by Punjabi railway contractors in 1954. Almost invisible until one is right on top of it, the brilliant white of the facade, the sun glinting off its minarets and mashrabiya windows, startles amid the surrounding monochrome. The mosque, which follows the Sunni Hanafi tradition, welcomes non-Muslim visitors. The carpeted interior, with its filigree-inlaid prayer-
niche, is charming and peaceful. Next, make for A A Mithaiwalla, perhaps Nairobi’s oldest restaurant. Abdulali Alibhai Mithaiwalla, a Bohra Muslim from Gujarat, began selling Indian sweets and savouries from a rickshaw in Pangani in the mid-1930s, before his family opened the present premises in the 1970s. Come on Fridays and Sundays when the restaurant’s Swahili dishes are served (sweets and curries are available every day). Try the goat’s hoof soup, known as paya, followed by the mutton biryani, 24 hours in the preparation. At the northwestern end of Pangani Market is another colonial-era institution, the Liberty Cinema. Films are no longer shown but KCSE set texts are frequently staged and ushers will let you stand at the back. When we visited, school girls in green gingham laughed uproariously to a hammed-up staging of Grace Ogot’s The River and the Source. A visit upstairs is even more interesting, with the rest of the building taken over by Yaden, a local charity that allows youngsters from the surrounding slums to jam, improvise and dance. There is even a recording studio, all part of the group’s underlying anti-extremism mission in a part of Nairobi where youngsters are vulnerable to al-Shabaab recruitment. Our next stop is the Ramgarhia Gurdwara Sahib, Pangani’s main Sikh temple, which serves Nairobi’s 3,000-strong Ramgarhia, or carpenter, caste. Traditional Sikh hospitality is assured, and visitors will be offered a free vegetarian meal in the langar or kitchen. Visitors entering the prayer halls must cover their heads and remove footwear. Leaving the temple, head down Park Road past the Guru Nanak Hospital and a cluster of colonial-era civil service bungalows on your right. You are now in Ngara.
Stop for a beer on the terrace outside the Blue Hut hotel before turning onto Ngara Road where you will find what was once the Shan Cinema, one of Nairobi’s great architectural landmarks, famous from the 1950s for showing avant-garde European films and Hindi classics. This extraordinary building fell into disrepair in the 1970s, becoming a squat for street kids, after the bank foreclosed on the Shan Family. It was resurrected in 2001 by a Dutch woman, Marion Op het Veld, as the Sarakasi Dome, a training and performance venue for Kenya’s acrobatic troupes. It has been highly successful, and Sarakasi acrobats now perform around the world, from the stages of Beijing to the Hi-De-Hi vaudevilles of Butlin’s holiday camps in Britain. Visitors can watch sessions in the rehearsal studio and even pre-arrange a private show for a fee (contact marion@ sarakasi.co.ke). Ngara Road used to be famous for its sari and fabric shops. Sadly, only a few survive. The oldest, a few doors down from the dome, is Amarsons, which has peddled Indian silks, brocades and chiffons since the 1920s. Close by, Mitz Fashion sells ready-to-wear saris and Punjabi dresses for as little as Ksh1,500. Blending history and comfort, the Goan Gymkhana at the foot of Museum Hill makes for the perfect end of a thirsty walk. Approach it via Globe Cinema roundabout and Kipande Road. Built in 1935 as a club for posh North Goans, it was the social heart of Goan Nairobi. A Ksh200 day fee will grant you entry to the club, where you can relax over a drink or a Goan fish curry in the beer garden. There is a gloriously old-fashioned snooker room and a cosy bar. Best of all, for an additional Ksh100, there is a pool to wash away the sweat and grime of your exertions.
PHOTOS: BRIAN SIAMBI
The Swahili porters and Punjabi railwaymen who settled the forested river valleys east of Nairobi in the late 19th century would be utterly bewildered by them today. Sprawling and unkempt, the once colourful history of Pangani and Ngara is barely discernible now, swamped in breeze block and urban deprivation. Yet peer beneath the neglect and it is still possible to glimpse the past amid the drab tenements and chaotic vibrancy — appealing in its own way — of the present. By Adrian Blomfield
A street in Ngara
A A Mithaiwalla
Ramgarhia Gurdwara Sahib
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
Weekend away in the
The road to the border town of Namanga is a worthy stop-off in its own right, with a selection of unusual and quirky holiday stays, and all of the places mentioned are under two hours from Nairobi, traffic permitting. Many who stay in the area take the opportunity to visit Amboseli national park, a 90-minute hop on. More off the beaten track is Ol Doinyo Orok, a beautiful forest reserve on the Tanzanian border. PHOTO: BRIAN SIAMBI
Between Kajiado and Bisil is this rustic bush home, once the weekend escape for the owners, who now live in the UK. It was built in stages, with the kitchen and the living area the first to go up with a roomy tent, with a double and two twins, for sleeping. Later, a permanent room was added up the slope, now the master bedroom with colourful furnishings and an en-suite twin for kids. The tent, too, is a little more permanent, and it’s a great weekend retreat away from the stresses of daily life. There’s no pool, but ample walking in the area (it’s all plains game). Ksh12,000 for the whole house. Sleeps four adults comfortably, but takes up to eight. www.holidayhomeskenya.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
MAASAI OSTRICH FARM
The first thing you do at the ostrich farm, south of Kitengela town, is handle an egg, and it’s heavy! It’s just one of the many revelations about these fascinating birds you’ll learn on a tour of the farm, the only commercial ostrich farm in Kenya. From chicks to great giant birds, with a hefty kick, you’ll see every stage in their development. After the tour, visitors can take a short ride on an ostrich round an arena if they wish. But sadly, you won’t be able to have an ostrich steak lunch as the restaurant closed down some time ago. But there are plans to reopen it in the autumn, which will make it more of a day trip. Ksh300 per person for a farm tour; Ksh500 for a short ostrich ride. www.maasaiostrich.com
FRED’S RANCH, ISINYA
PHOTOS: BRIAN SIAMBI
There are a few places down this way to get a bite to eat, but Fred’s Ranch in Isinya (look out for signs on the left as you head south) tries hard to make itself appealing. Everything is ranch-style, right down to the waiters toting rancher hats. Tables are set out in a pretty garden, with a kids’ playground within shouting range. They offer lead-rein pony rides, too. At weekends, it can get busy, and is a good place to grab some nyama choma, but worth ringing ahead to make sure it’s not booked out for a wedding. Phone: 0792564243
SARAMBALA BUSH COTTAGE
Next door to Nyumba Eriko is Sarambala. As manager Melinda puts it, this is camping without having to put up a tent. This quirky little cabin has two double beds, although probably more comfortable for a couple with children, or very close friends, and a veranda with a splendid view over the Malepo Hills. There’s no plumbing, so it’s all bucket showers and drop loos. There’s a separate kitchen with gas rings, but bring your own cool box to keep things cold. It all requires a bit of planning, but it’s a cosy and cheap retreat in a beautiful spot. Look them up on AirBnB. Ksh4,000 for the whole cottage.
Love has been poured into this Bisil home, a rambling villa perched above a waterhole, luring in buffalo, elands and the resident tame warthogs. It’s all the personal touches added by the owners that make it so charming. With four bedrooms, three of them facing out towards the waterhole, a lengthy veranda for outside dining, and a pool, this is a perfect group getaway. On chillier evenings, enjoy a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire, before sitting down to a candlelit dinner. Ksh5,950 per person, children under five go free. Self-catering with a chef provided. www.eastafricanretreats.com
LERUAT LOG RESORT
This is a bit of an unusual find. On the Namanga road between Sarambala and Tandala, take a very steep road to this Swiss-style cabin hotel. The location is extraordinary, with one of the best views we’ve seen in the area. Accommodation is in cottages or rooms, either with their own or a shared outdoor deck. The interior decor, though, is a little unimaginative - gaudy wallpaper, brown bed throws and tiled floors. Nevertheless, it’s a fun place to visit, even if just to ogle the view, and the unlikely logpile structure. Restaurant open all day. Starts from Ksh16,500 full-board. www.facebook.com/leruatlogresort
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
What I pack … for my travels Roy Wachira is the co-founder and CEO of Camouflage Media Ltd, an integrated digital and experiential media agency. He currently heads The Foundry Africa (www.thefoundry.biz), a modern and creative co-working space network. He is an avid photographer, adventurer and motor junkie. Instagram @mrroyking Twitter @RoyKing_
Large Weekender bag Ksh21,900
Bose Soundlink Mini 2 I love travelling with my own sound. I love this little monster because it’s tiny but it gives major sound wherever you are.
Iphone 7 I only shoot with my phone these days. People see my pictures and videos and wonder how they can come from a phone. Three years after my [motorbike] accident [which left his left arm paralysed], my phone enables me to continue capturing the world as vividly as I did before.
Persol Sunglasses When you travel, you can’t predict the weather, or where you’ll be. I like the Persol brand, and love these particular ones because they are understated and allow you to blend in easily in many different environments. They are light and strong - I have sat on them a couple of times but still they look sharp.
Victorionix Summit XLT When I travel, I hate having to think about the condition of my watch. I love the Summit because it has a comfy rubber strap, is water-resistant, and has a scratch-resistant mineral glass so you don’t have to worry about banging it on surfaces or dropping it. It’s a really beautiful watch, and you never know where you’ll end up. I opt for this over my Casio G Shock anytime.
PHOTOS TATIANA KARANJA
Panama hat Every man should figure out his hat style, I love straw hats. They add a spot of sunshine wherever you go, whatever the weather.
NAIROBI: The Hub, Junction, Sarit Centre, Village Market, Yaya Centre, Westgate DAR ES SALAAM: Slipway
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
THE CASTLE Champagne Ridge Bougainvilleas creep up to the ledge of the balcony creating a serene frame around the hilly landscape. You can spend most of your time out here, whether it’s with wine and bitings, in deep conversation, engrossed in a book or just sitting in silence, savouring the views.
OVERVIEW The Castle is a beautiful spacious house perfect for a group of friends, families or couples. Overlooking the beautiful Champagne Ridge, just outside Nairobi, it can accommodate 10 guests. The large windows afford striking views, and the open-plan space is pretty modern, yet simple, with a huge mahogany dining table for convivial mealtimes. The living area has a comfortable leather sofa, TV, DVD player and hundreds of movies to choose from. The kitchen is equipped with a gas oven, fridge, pots, pans, cutlery, crockery and drinking water. Just bring your own food. The hosts also keep a small stock of supplies like beer, wine, charcoal, soft drinks, meat and bread that are all available for purchase. The Castle’s main attraction is definitely its balcony, which is furnished with a dining table and safari chairs. There’s also a nice big barbeque perfect for some nyama choma, and to keep you warm on chilly nights. But nothing beats the gorgeous views.
WHERE The Castle is on Champagne Ridge, across from the Ngong Hills. To get to the Castle, turn left at Kona Baridi off Magadi Road and follow the directions provided. It takes approximately two hours from Nairobi.
PROS • Quick and easy weekend escape from the city (2-10 pax) • Modern, clean and comfortable • Scenic views • Working amenities • Pets allowed • Very helpful hosts CONS • Only one shared bathroom (can get tricky if you’re a group of 10) • Chilly nights so pack warm • The balcony and top floor are not very child-friendly WHAT CAN YOU DO? Guests have access to a 10-acre property,
offering long hikes in and around the valley. There’s a natural spring and traditional Maasai caves to visit as well. Birdwatchers will have a field day, while eland, zebras, antelopes, gazelles and baboons are often seen in the area. I, however, ventured out there to do absolutely nothing, except sit back, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the hills. HOW TO BOOK: Go on to www.airbnb.com and type in The Castle Ngong. A few options will pop up but you want the one titled ‘Views, Wildlife and Sunsets at The Castle.’ The Traveldote: www.thetraveldote.com Facebook and Instagram @thetraveldote
Per night cost is Ksh11,000 for two people for the entire cottage. Thereafter an extra Ksh2,000 per guest per night. If 10 people, it breaks down to Ksh2,700 per person. OVERALL: 8/10
Gone are the days where we only travelled to lodges, hotels, hostels or motels. Why book a hotel when you could spend a few nights in a home away from home? And you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of unique, modern, quirky and comfortable options available all over Kenya.
Forodhani House, Shella Beach, Lamu, Kenya www.forodhanihouse.com For reservations: email@example.com Tel : +254 718 407 480, +33 612 548 184
Kenyan photojournalist Mohamed “Mo” Amin is perhaps best known for his pictures of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, which along with Michael Buerk’s reporting brought the crisis to international attention. He died in 1996, when his Ethiopian Airlines flight was hijacked and crashed into the Indian Ocean. Although particularly renowned for his political shots, he nevertheless took a great number of travel pictures. This is the first in a retrospective series celebrating that work. Ahmed was the only elephant in history to have been protected by presidential decree. President Jomo Kenyatta wanted to protect one of the last great tuskers from poachers and ordered a 24-hour armed guard to be placed around him. Ahmed was still able to roam freely in Marsabit Park and got used to the presence of his guards. This photograph was taken a few days before the elephant’s death, and Ahmed charged Amin and his colleague, Peter Moll, both barely escaping his huge tusks. Photo taken from the archives. Courtesy of Salim Amin.
CRISTA CULLEN Crista Cullen retired from Britain’s Olympic hockey team after winning bronze in 2012. She was coaxed out of retirement for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where Team GB brought home gold. Now running a marketing consultancy business in Britain, she talks about growing up in Kenya, the quest for acceptance by her peers that propelled her into full-time sport, and a conservation cause close to her heart. Growing up in Kenya, what was it like? In the school holidays, my brother and I, especially later on, used to take clients into Galana [next to Tsavo East] on a local safari to earn holiday money. In the UK, most people do pot washing in a local pub. As children, we had pet mongooses, scorpions. We were feral children, more at home on an adventure in the middle of nowhere. Coming over to England, [I saw] so much conformity. Sent to boarding school, I quickly learned that shaving my legs and wearing make-up was important at the age of 13. It was hard to fit in, sport was my refuge. It made me accepted.
around animal welfare, we built a large dispensary, as well as a large school. We built a nursery, a primary school, and we’re completing a secondary school. We have a warden and six scouts to patrol the area to reduce the amount of livestock [grazing], charcoal burning and poaching. The unique thing about Galana is that it is so arid, you find yourself watching a leopard, or a lion, and there are no other vehicles. That’s why I love it.
Why did you decide to come back to Kenya? I got picked for England [to play hockey] very early, hence why I ended up retiring after London. I had done two Olympics. It was a very hard decision [to give it up] but because we’d hosted the Olympics [in London 2012] and as a GB athlete, you feel like a celebrity for two weeks of your life. We won bronze in London, and I thought that was probably the best we’d get and that I’d be a part of. I’d been away from my family for a long time, so the pull to go home was too strong.
How did you get back into hockey? I got a phone call in April 2015, and my coach gave me a six-month window [to trial for the Olympic team]. I thought, ‘What if I’m not good enough?’ More of a problem was that I had not committed to four years [of training] and I was concerned about how others would perceive it. I was potentially going to kick somebody out of an Olympic space. There were some very hard, very confrontational conversations. The reality of elite sport is that the best person gets the job. [Winning gold] was a very, very special moment. It was the success that everybody hoped for - it gave messages of a hard work ethic, unity, togetherness, and a common goal.
A cause close to your heart? Our family is a part of the Galana Conservancy adjacent to Tsavo East. It was set up in 2008, and I was involved for three years [after retiring in 2012]. The government own the land, and we organised a lease to create a 60,000-acre buffer that animals could roam through. We engage with the community
Most memorable travel incident in East Africa? I drove around Africa in 2009 with a very good friend. We got to the Tanzanian border with Mozambique, and the bridge had washed away. To get across, they would strap two dinghies together, and drive the car on. The vehicle that had tried to cross before us had gone into the river. I ummed and ahhed for
two or three days. It was a 600-mile detour to go round. I rang my Dad, and he said, “Just pack your lifejacket.” So we went for it, and unbelievably we got across. The river was in flood, and tree trunks were coming down. It took about an hour and a half to cross. It was pretty liberating. Favourite view? My grandparents lived in Naivasha, and one that symbolises a lot from my childhood is looking over the lake from up in the Kinangop in the Aberdares. You can see Lake Naivasha and Mt Longonot from on high, the beautifully symbolic Great Rift Valley. Favourite hotel? Hemingways in Watamu. I was practically brought up there. It has some very special memories. What do you never travel without? A first-aid kit. I’m a massive organiser, and always have a first-aid kit to sort someone out temporarily until we get them to safety. What next? We entered the Rhino Charge this year and won it. [As a result of that], I’m talking with a company who want to provide me with a vehicle. I want to build it here [in the UK], and travel with it to Africa on a conservation-based adventure. I’m looking to build a route through West Africa - that’s an area I’ve never been through. It may be a pipe dream, but who doesn’t love those!
NOMAD MAGAZINE AUGUST 2017
The business TRAVELLER By Frances Woodhams
ohn has become adept at making the most of the hours in his day. He shaved 30 minutes off his airport transfer time by risking life and limb to cross the dual carriageway outside his office on foot and narrowly escaped a serious accident with a matatu. By collecting his Uber from the other side of the road, he has saved the driver from making a time-consuming U-turn. “I’m heading out of the country this afternoon, but yes, of course I can take the conference call.” John is almost surgically attached to his phone. Between calls, he directs the Uber driver along lesser-known back roads to the airport in short, barked commands. When they do hit traffic, John thrums his fingers on the dashboard impatiently. “Drop me here,” John says as the car rolls up to Terminal 1B. He swings his black computer bag on wheels adeptly off the back seat and then whips out exactly the right amount of money from his trouser pocket and hands it to the driver. Using his broad, pinstriped shoulders as a kind of navigational tool, he tacks to the front of the entrance queue and slips through the scanner before fellow passengers even have time to complain. His phone rings. John reattaches his earpiece. It’s his secretary, Julie, calling, “Conference call for you, the others are all waiting. I’m just connecting you now.” “Go ahead,” he says, handing over passport and ticket to the correct check-in staff with one hand. “Abuja, 2 pm flight?” They ask. He nods in confirmation. John is still talking and listening as he strides up the steep airport escalator. He puts his phone down briefly during a second round of security checks, removing his belt and shoes and throwing them in the tray in one swift movement. The others on the conference call haven’t even noticed he’s gone off line. Without missing a beat, he’s back on call. John heads straight to the business class lounge. Seated by the window overlooking parked planes with a cup of black coffee, he is still working when they make the final call for his flight. So far, so smooth. Things begin to fall apart, however, when John boards the aircraft. Much to his horror, John has been seated next to a six-year-old child, who is flying unaccompanied. The little girl has a red passport pouch hanging around her neck and
is playing with an in-flight kiddy pack. John looks desperately about for a spare seat but the flight is rammed. He tries not to make eye contact with the little girl as he sits down and only says ‘hello’ briefly when he catches her staring intently at him. He gently removes her sticky hand from his sleeve as he stakes a claim to the shared armrest. A stylish young air hostess fusses over the child, handing her a juice box before walking blithely away. John frowns. Predictably, the child squeezes the box and apple juice arks out from the straw, showering John. The girl laughs, drops the juice box on John’s shoe then starts jabbing at the TV screen to find cartoons as John dabs uselessly at his only suit with a dry tissue. “What’s your name?” John asks, as if to prove to himself that his heart is not made of stone. “Betty,” she says, “and by the way, can you fix my TV?” John can’t help admiring the child’s bold
nature and helps her plug into Despicable Me. He finds a couple of blankets for her to sit on so that she’s high enough to see the screen and wedges tissues between her head and the oversized plane headphones, so that the speakers sit in the right place over her ears. Finally there’s peace and quiet. John has a report to work on and arranges it on his lap but Betty keeps clapping and laughing out loud at her film. She’s enjoying it so much that John gives up on his task to tune into the same channel. He thoroughly enjoys the film and hasn’t felt this relaxed in years. By the end of the journey, the air hostess finds Betty surrounded by cuddly toys, each of whom have been formally introduced to John. “This is snakey, Billy and Dolly.” The pair are now engaged in a spirited game of noughts and crosses and the flight time is nearly over. After all, life’s not all about work, work, work… Frances is author of blog www.africanexpatwivesclub.com
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We give you an insider guide to the Mara for this year's wildebeest migration season.Termed as the 8th wonder of the world we explore differ...
Published on Jul 28, 2017
We give you an insider guide to the Mara for this year's wildebeest migration season.Termed as the 8th wonder of the world we explore differ...