Mt Kenya Wildlife Estates
Mount Kenya Wildlife Estates
Our driver, James, drove up to from Nairobi and once again loaded our many bags into his car. He was pleased for the work and enjoyed the journey across Kenya as much as we did. It allowed him to venture further in his own country, see what was happening in different areas and get away from the dusty, bustling city.
We were headed across country back towards Mount Kenyas, where we would be staying at Mount Kenya Wildlife Estates, on the Ol Pejeta conservancy, in a large house. We didn’t need such a large house, but it was available for a reasonable price and we had planned to ask some of the staff or volunteers to visit us while we were there for two and a half weeks, so the five bed, five bath house would be plenty big enough.
We would be heading north towards Thompson Falls, then head east across the top end of the Abadares and on to Nanyuki. The roads were reasonable, the scenery beautiful with many small farms dotted over the low rolling hills. Traffic wasn’t as bad as usual, once we turned off the main highway, but we still came across the usual donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and motor bikes laden with all manner of goods. I was struck by the sight of a older man urging his donkey forward, with a large water tank loaded on his cart, obviously making a delivery or collecting it for himself and taking it home, and thought that this one task may actually take him most of the day, and how slow and hard life was here. We saw women bending over in the fields harvesting whatever crops were ready, babies straddled across their backs tied with colorful kikois, all chatting and smiling and waving if we happened to catch sight of each other. The land seemed to be greener than on the far eastern side and the lush green slopes of the Abadares reminded me of the rolling green hills of the UK, with red roofs dotted all across the landscape revealing the many farms that thrived here.
After several hours we looked at the map to see if there was a short cut across a particular part of the route, instead of heading south for some miles to get to the main road and then turning north again. We stopped in a small town and asked a tall wiry guy standing on the corner of a road that we thought was the short cut, if it was passable. He advised that it was rocky and slow and that there was a better road a few miles further along the main road which was tarmacked, except for a couple of kilometers. We thanked him and continued further along the road and found the turn off. He was correct, the road had not yet been finished and was still being built, the sand only just being leveled. We saw cars coming off it and decided that we would give it a try. We drove for a few minutes and then veered off the actual sandy road and used the track that ran alongside it. We passed several matatus (minibuses) coming the other way and also passed the lone stationery JCB that was obviously still being used to finish the road. There were no workers and no activity with regard to construction and we had been told, roads and bridges take years to build, the contractor eking out the time in order to make more money. It seemed longer than 2 kilometers, but eventually we hit tarmac and although it was a new road, there were still plenty of potholes. We were happy that this was available to us though as it cut an hour off hour journey! We had also crossed the Equator three times on this 215 kilometer journey!
We arrived in Nanyuki, a town we had visited once before, to get supplies from the European supermarket, and turned off towards Ol Pejeta. Once out of the town and past the British Military base, the road returned to rubble. It was hard going… and the last 5 kilometers took us at least half an hour and I was worried for James’s suspension with the weight of all our bags. He didn’t seem too concerned and expertly dodged the huge potholes, the large rocks, along with the Masai and their herds and anything else that was on the road. At this point there we would just drive on whichever side, or area of the road that was the path of least resistance, and if anything came the other way, we would just swerve out of the way so that we passed without incident.
Finally we arrived at the entrance and after the security procedures had once again been gone through, masks, temperature, hand sanitizer, form filling, more hand sanitizer and a grilling of the driver, we were allowed in. As we went through the gate, we looked to our right and saw a lovely herd of Grevis Zebras and elegant gazelles and as we proceeded along the dirt track, cheeky pumbas (warhogs) pranced across in front of us. We found our house which looked impressive from the outside, unloaded the bags and had a tour of the home with Winifred. It all looked lovely, 5 bedrooms and bathrooms, large kitchen with a washing machine! Living room, lots of windows and two upstairs balconies, with an amazing view of Mount Kenya, plus a nice patio. We felt we were in a new modern home in the USA with all mod cons! Until we were told, ‘the TV is not working, the dishwasher does not work, do not keep the windows open as monkeys will come in, we have just switched on the fridge in case you have cold things’. Okay, no problem.. we didn’t want a TV, we could easily do without the dishwasher, we had dealt with monkeys in Singapore so no worries there, could have done with the fridge being switched on yesterday, but oh well, it would get cool eventually. Hey, I was excited for the washing machine!! She left us with the wifi code, and James rested and drank before he headed out on another 3 hour trip back to Nairobi.
We settled in, unpacked some of our bags and went to set up our devices on wifi. There was none; the router was not working and we realized it was the same reason the TV wasn’t working. There had been a power surge in the last few days and blown the TV and obviously the router, though no-one had thought to check it. We called her back and advised we needed the wifi fixing otherwise we could not stay…this was our only form of communication to our family and we needed to be connected. She apologized and they did get someone to come over straight away and replace the router, we were connected!
The house and space were lovely and over the coming days and weeks we enjoyed sitting on the patio watching the monkeys run across the grass waiting for us to drop our guard and leave a window open. On our first evening we sat drinking a glass of wine when the zebras came walking past, followed by gazelles, and the warthogs sniffed and scuffled right next to us by the patio. They must have really poor eyesight as they never really saw us until we moved, then they were so skittish they ran off with their tails pointing straight up in the air, their butt cheeks perking up as they ran, with their long mains flowing behind them. They looked pretty ferocious when they looked at us head on, their huge tusks wrapping around their mouths, a deep frown on their foreheads, but they really were harmless.
We enjoyed waking up in the morning looking out towards the mountain which gave us a different façade each day. Some days she would be clothed in dense white clouds, other days dark grey. Sometimes on clear day, she shone like a diamond, the sun reflecting on the snow which had fallen in the night and found a footing in the nooks and crannies of her highest peak. We still thought we might take a hike one day, but as it turned out, when we thought about arranging it, the weather turned cloudy for many days and I didn’t want to climb without seeing the view below.
We have stayed in many AirBnBs and for the most part have enjoyed most of them. There are always things we would improve on, of course, but we do get annoyed when things are advertised as ‘luxury’ and they end up being barely ‘adequate’. With this home, we had hot water and lovely showers and also a washing machine, plenty of space. The kitchen was enormous, but there was little in the way of cooking equipment. The frying pan handle broke the first time we used it, as did the colander handle, the cooker hood wouldn’t stay on, although they did come and fix that. There was no plug for the sink to wash dishes, the peeler was broken, wooden chopping boards were broken and unusable, the cheese grater was broken, we had to jerry the knob on the oven so we could use it, only one side of the toaster worked, there were no mixing bowls, jugs, baking trays, basically nothing to ‘prepare’ food in. And of course no tea towels, dish cloths, or scissors. There were no cleaning items, either equipment or products, the cleaner coming in on request. I’m not sure what would have happened if we had dropped a glass or had a spill late at night….we would have had to call someone to come and clean up! Of course we managed and improvised, but it is annoying to have to ‘make do’ when ‘luxury’ is promised.
Our days were idyllic here. We would do our yoga stretches each morning on the top balcony, in full view of Mount Kenya, drink coffee and have breakfast on the patio, watching as the animals wandered by or munched on the very dry grass. We’d do our chores and then take a walk through the 1000 acres, coming across gazelles and zebras at every turn, scaring the warthogs and laughing at the monkeys as they teased us as we passed along. Our favorite thing to do was take a walk about 5 pm in the evening and head towards Ol Pejeta conservancy. The fence ran alongside our estate and we would take the binoculars and view rhino, elephant, gazelle, giraffe and buffalo, sometimes they were quite close. We walked every day, sometimes missing the paths and going quite a distance. It was hotter here than in Naivasha or Timau, being lower in the valley and the dust was a constant menace, coating everything and finding its way into every nook and cranny. I enjoyed doing laundry! Hanging it out to dry, which took no time at all; I just had to watch that the monkeys didn’t run off with my undies!
We had no form of transport while we were staying here, so our trips out had to be planned by securing a driver. We had already befriended Geoff, who had taken us to Ol Pejeta previously, and who we called to see if he would be our designated driver should we need to go anywhere. As Marcel had promised him his camera, he was happy to oblige. We arranged a trip to Nanyuki to get supplies and then asked the shopkeeper, who we had met at the farm during Christmas, if he could deliver anything we might need. He was happy to do so and we ordered a couple of times during our stay. We had a nice lunch at the local airstrip restaurant and told Geoff we would let him know when we might need him again. We planned a trip to Ol Pejeta again, this time inviting the three volunteers from the farm. We contacted them and they arrived the evening before, had dinner with us, catching up on news about the staff and the farm, and we went off on another safari the next day. It was as amazing this time as it was before, and although we did not find the lions on this occasion, we did see a tiny baby giraffe suckling its mother, a pair of very amorous rhinos, and an ostrich. We also too a trip to Ngare Ndare forest and our friendly neighbors from the farm took is on a spectacular day tour of the Lolldaigas. We spent an afternoon exploring Nanyuki, which was a very sensory experience, having to be very alert with the traffic, lack of sidewalks, uneven ground to walk on and trying to take in all the sights. Vendors selling boiled eggs and ‘smokies’ in small carts at the side of the road. Wooden stalls selling all kinds of second-hand garments. Fruit and veggie stalls and of course a whole row of stalls selling the ‘local weed’. This town is called ‘Little London’ by many locals due to the fact that there are a lot of British military families here on the base. We didn’t see many of the ‘expats’ while we were walking the town, but then they probably had everything on the base so no need to venture out. We found a nice restaurant and had lunch and a glass or two of wine and took a taxi back to the house.
We had not seen many other guests during our stay, except a houseful of party goers next door during the weekend, who played music quite loudly all day. The houses were vacation homes for wealthy Kenyans in Nairobi and each weekend we noticed a few more cars. There were permanent tenant there too, but we only saw one couple doing some gardening one day. They gave us a wave but turned back tow their gardening chores. During the day only the rangers were wandering around, the gardeners and the management staff, who would drive by while we were walking, giving us friendly waves and smiles. We really were self-isolating in the best possible way!
One of the main reasons we came back towards Mount Kenya and Nanyuki was because we wanted to meet up with the staff from the farm. We had left in a hurry, and without an explanation and so wanted to see them again, say our goodbyes and wish them all well. We asked Geoff to take us to the farm, collect those that could take time off and take us to a small café/restaurant which was about half an hour away from them. We managed to arrange this and duly turned up on the day. It was lovely to see them all, Edwin, Anne, Peris, Caroline, Maggie, Joseph, and Jeremy. They finished up their work, made sure everything was prepared for the one guest that was still remaining and piled into the Land Cruiser. They were turned out in their best clothes, had the biggest smiles on their faces and were so happy to see us. We headed out, music blaring and everyone having a good time, away from work for a few hours. We headed to the restaurant and told them to order whatever they wanted to eat and drink and we all squished around a large table and chatted, made jokes and told them why we had left. They understood, and agreed they would leave too if they had other jobs to go to, but COVID had limited their opportunities. The good news was their full pay had been reinstated, and they had hot water! Joseph had been asked to provide a list of things he needed for his kitchen and we had seen, when we picked them up, that the kitchen had been extended to incorporate the dishwashing room, instead of it being downstairs under the restaurant. So it looked like things were being improved, and if our concerns and confrontation had caused that to happen, then our leaving had been worth it! The afternoon was soon over and we headed back so that the staff could be home before dark. We said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. They were a lovely bunch of people and we will miss them, but vowed to stay in touch even when we returned to the US.
Our two and a half weeks went by quickly and we arranged for James to collect us and take us to our next stop which was Nairobi again. We would be there for a week, while we renewed our visas, then we would be traveling to Lamu, a small island off the coast of Kenya. There for 3 weeks then off to Mtwapa, further down the coast for our 6 week house sit.
Two days before our departure it had rained and the approach road was riddled with water filled potholes, slick mud and was now somewhat narrower, making it difficult to pass anything. We worried that James’s car might get stuck if there was any further rain, but luckily the next day was fine. On the morning of our departure, we had a text from James…he would be late as he had had an emergency the night before; he would explain later. As we had to leave the house, and we were still a little concerned about the road, we arranged for Geoff to pick us up in his jeep, take us to the airstrip and we would meet James there. It would slice an hour of his journey, and it sounded like he had been up for some of the night, so I thought he would appreciate the extra time to rest.
As we waited for Geoff, our bags sitting by the front door, everything in order and our remaining groceries sitting in the kitchen, we sat on the patio catching up on the news. Suddenly there was such a clatter in the kitchen and we jumped up and ran inside. There, scarpering out of the kitchen window with my remaining three bananas were two monkeys! We had been so careful over the past two weeks; the monkeys ever vigilant, watching our every move waiting for the opportune moment. We felt very proud that we had handled them so well, but they had beaten us, not giving up! I couldn’t believe we had let our guard down in the last 10 minutes of our stay! Geoff arrived and we met James at the stated time and place, had coffee with them both, and transferred all the bags to the car. Our farewell to Geoff done, with the promise of meeting again in Nairobi for the camera pick up, we headed back to Nairobi, passing the usual rickety wooden stalls, fences of corrugated iron and the hustle and bustle of people going about their day. This time we were staying further towards the center of the city, in an apartment, and so we planned to do a little sight-seeing, and catch up with a couple of people who we had met at the farm.
I reflected on our time so far in Kenya and realized that we probably wouldn’t be seeing many more animals while we were here. Certainly going to parks and zoos in Nairobi would not come close to what we had already seen out in the wild, and on the coast there was probably not much in the way of wildlife. There were areas where we could do more safaris, East and West Tsavo or Ambeselli near Kilima N’Jaro (Kilimanjaro), and even the Masai Mara. But these were expensive to visit from where we were and at this point we felt we had seen many of the animals there were to see, except perhaps a leopard…..and of course those ever elusive hippos!
Click on Photo Below to be taken to a Larger Gallery.