We were privileged to be able to visit this 46,000 cattle ranch nestled in the Laikipia Plateau with our good friends Bob and Denise. It is a private ranch and a permit is required to enter onto the property. Bob, being a local, arranged for the permits, provided the classic Land Rover and we packed a picnic of different salads and homemade bread, along with some delicious fresh salad from Denise’s garden.
They picked us up at 8am and we bounced off down the road, hanging on for dear life as we dodged potholes, pedestrians and the ubiquitous boda boda guys. We passed Massais tending their sheep and goats, and who were wearing their colorful ‘shukas’, the swathes of material wrapped around their bodies, thrown over a shoulder, sometimes cinched in at the waist with a belt. With flip flops or leather sandals for footwear and more material to wrap around their heads when the sun go too hot, they would walk with their herds to the choicest grazing spots along the roads. They are nomads, walking from one area to another to find better grazing, and water. Much of the land has been bought by locals and foreigners alike and much of the land is now being conserved to protect the wildlife, so their environment has been drastically reduced, and roads criss-cross what was once open fertile land where their animals grazed. Now, through overgrazing, towns cropping up everywhere, people wanting to own land and the roads intersecting open space, their livelihoods are much changed from their original stature in the country. They are looked down upon by many, as land that they are able to use is overgrazed, their animals breed with others on established farms and they herd their animals through busy towns, encountering traffic and all the hazards of 21st century living.
We arrived at the ranch entrance, had our temperatures taken, sanitized our hands and made sure that all the paperwork was in order and set off hoping to see some wildlife. This was a vast area and we were warned that wildlife could be scarce. Bob being a bird enthusiast, immediately found lots to look at, stopping to peer through his binoculars at all manner of birds. He described them, named them and when there was a dispute between himself and Denise, they consulted the ‘bible’ that was tucked neatly away in the back of the drivers’ seat, finally either agreeing on what they had seen or politely agreeing to disagree.
We came to a watering hole, where zebras and antelope were enjoying their mid-morning drink, so we joined them, had a hot cup of tea and watched the birdlife enjoying baths, dunking for food and making quite a din. I think it was mating season and the males were strutting, calling and chasing females and it all seemed quite chaotic at times.
We moved on, spotting more birds as we drove up to a high point where there was a monument to the family that first lived there. The view was spectacular! We stood looking out across a vast valley swathed between two high ridges. The land was dry but dotted with many trees, and we could see for hundreds of miles northward. In all that vastness, were elephants, giraffe, zebra, lions and many more animals, all camouflaged and undetectable in the golden haze that shimmered to the horizon.
We spotted elephants close by on another hill and spent some time watching them munch on the choicest leaves, unfortunately pulling up young trees and breaking branches off others as they mowed their way forward. There were many cows, being herded by young men across the valley and we came across portable ‘bomas’, areas where the cows are kept at night to stay safe from the wildlife. These would be moved to different areas over time so that the herders could utilize all the grazing areas without having to walk miles back to the stationary bomas each night.
Soon it was time for lunch and we sought out the best tree which gave the largest amount of shade and set about organizing our picnic. This was a real treat, under the shade of a lovely tree, a table and chairs, beer, fresh food, homemade bread and zebras and antelope grazing nearby. We were in heaven. I did occasionally look up and scour the nearby bushes and long grass in case we were being stalked by lions, but then realized the zebras and antelope would alert us to anything untoward and I think they would taste better than us anyway! We sat for almost two hours, munching on our picnic, chatting about Kenya and the wildlife, enjoying the sun, shade, and the beautiful scenery, along with watching the animals as they grazed away, occasionally looking up to see what we were up to.
All to soon it was time to pack up and drive some more to see if we could spot any other animals. We were almost at the northern end of the ranch so our drive would be taking us back towards the entrance, and we decided to go a different route, just for fun.
We were lucky to come across another herd of elephants with babies and we saw a few giraffes chewing on the acacia trees, looking at us in surprise, then realizing we were of little interest, they went back to picking their way through the enormous thorns to find the juiciest leaves. After more bird sightings, Denise decided we should leave via the road behind the first dam and water hole that we had come across earlier in the morning. Of course, we couldn’t find the road and ended up in a totally different place which also had more spectacular views of the Lolldiaga hills. It pays to get lost once in a while! The hills rolled around us in all directions and we were fortunate to see the owner of the ranch, driving around in his stretched Land Rover. He told us that they had moved a lot of the cattle further north and that was where we would see more wildlife. We didn’t like to tell him we had been that way but had not seen much activity. We had enjoyed the glorious scenery, the stimulating company and the thrilling ride, and although we had not seen buffalo or lions, the elephants, giraffes and zebras were always a treat to watch.
We turned around and headed back towards the gate, climbing hills and as we rounded a sharp corner we came across a herd of camels! Now that was something we had not expected to see. They surrounded the vehicle, looking at us intently with their jeweled eyes and long lashes, those being the only two pleasant attributes that I could see. Their shapes are odd, their mouths ugly and their legs and feet looking like they did not belong on their bodies. Sorry, but they are not my favorite…. We did learn that they are becoming more common now in Kenya due to their milk, meat, and their ability to survive without water for longer periods of time than cows and they are being herded south from Somalia and Ethiopia. Water is an ongoing scarcity, and in the years to come will be a great cause of concern with regard to livelihoods and the stability of the country as a whole.
We exited the ranch and made our way back to the house, through busy villages, over bumpy roads, dodging the usual traffic on the roadway. We were eager to wash the dust away and relax on the patio with a very large gin and tonic, recounting our day as the zebras and impala wandered by, getting ready to settle for the night.
Bob and Denise had another hours drive home so they downed their dinks and clambered back into the Land Rover and off they went, waving as they bounced their way down the drive. We weren’t sure we would see them again before we left Kenya but vowed to stay in touch and share photos, bread recipes and tales of our continuing journey – good friends!
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