On our last day at Campi Ya Kanzi, Andre goes for a run in the bush with Pareshi. Interesting experience to try and keep up with a marathon in two and half hours type of Maasai who seems to have springs in his legs and the regularity of a metronome !
The run quickly turns into a game viewing experience when we almost bump into – and startle a group of zebra, and then run behind a pair of jackals on a dirt road for a hundred metres.
Kampi Ya Kanzi lies at the foot of the Chyulu Hills, Hemingway’s “green hills of Africa”.
During our stay, we go hiking in the Chyulu Hills and visit the Cloud Forest. We start our walks in waist-high dry grass. That golden sea heaves back and forth every time the wind blows. And then the Cloud Forest suddenly happens. Deep green against that golden ocean.
An ancient, lush, almost Tolkienesque forest full of gnarly old trees, its floor covered in moss, with Old Man’s Beard hanging from tall branches. It has a magical, primal feel to it. The rays of sunlight which occasionally penetrate the forest illuminate it like the stained glass windows of a cathedral.
The physical explanation for the forest’s existence – that is is situated at the “dew line” and is fed by condensation from the clouds seems too mundane to be satisfactory.
Next, we visit a Maasai Manyatta (village). Only the women and children are around. The men are out tending to their cattle. And the Moran, the young warriors, live in a separate village.
I wonder what force pushes the Maasai to keep to their hard, uncompromising lifestyle when they have the alternative of employment at the Campi lodge. In the competiton between the two value systems – Maasai and “Western”, the Maasai, at least in the MWCT, seems to be winning. It’s as if humans need constraints and sacrifice to create a distinctive sense of tribal identity.
That evening, we dine with a representative of the UNDP, here to grant the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust the biannual Equator Prize, a global prize awarded to one outstanding sustainable biodiversity community initiative.
From the mine, it takes us six hours to reach Campi ya Kanzi, on a large Maasai ranch, wedged between Tsavo West National Park and Amboseli. Campi ya Kanzi (the “treasure camp” in Swahili) is the fruit of Italian conservationists, Luca and Antonella’s dream to build a partnership with the local Maasai community to help them benefit directly from the conservation of their environment and its wildlife. The result is the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, which operates an upmarket eco-game lodge in the area, the proceeds of which go to fund education, health and research programs for the local Maasai community.
Instead of killing lions, Maasai become “simba scouts” who prove their bravery by tracking lions on foot. Among other things, the fund pays out compensation for cattle killed by predators. Check them out at www.maasai.com
Campi Ya Kanzi is a unique kind of place, with a profound connection between the guests of the eco-lodge and the Maasai community. For four days, we are taken around the bush by our Maasai guide, Parashi. And we return from our adventures to be pampered at the lodge with some of the best Italian food we have ever had.
Occasionally, the connection with the local “community” can get too intimate, as when Laura has an unexpected encounter with a genet cat in our tent.
Our friend’s mine manager meets us at the Taita Hills Lodge to guide us to the mine’s secret location in the Tsavo region, a two hour drive away through small villages, plantations and bush country. The mine is located deep in the bush, with several working pits scattered over a large area. The camp has neither running water nor electricity but it is a little piece of paradise in the bush, with pretty flower beds, neat little stone cottages and a tree house.
After exploring several of the pits, we are treated to a succulent Kenyan dinner and spend a peaceful night at the camp, only interrupted by the sounds of the bush. The boys spend the night in the tree house which, when not inhabited by people, is occupied by a leopard and her cubs.
We leave the Maasai Mara on August 26th for a brief watering stop in Nairobi, which is supposed to be followed by a journey to Mombassa on the night train, also called , in Victorian times, the “lunatic express” when the Nairobi to Mombassa section of the Uganda Railway was being built in 1913. Perhaps that name was related to the engineering complexity of building a railroad across Africa’s great Rift Valley. Or perhaps it was because of the “Man Eaters” of Tsavo, the two lions who crept into the camp every night and dragged a worker out into the bush to eat him. The lions were finally shot after they had devoured 138 workers.
Anyhow, we decide to ignore the puzzled looks we keep getting from locals upon us telling them that we are going to Mombassa by train (well, I suppose the 15 hour train journey compared to the six hour drive or one hour flight must have had something to do with it).
A few minutes before heading to the train station, we are told that the train has crashed into a car on the way in, killing three people and that – it might be “slightly delayed”. That is enough to shatter our hitherto unshakable resolve and we decide to spend the night at the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi, and to drive down to Tsavo the next morning.
What would have turned out to be a nightmarish night on the Lunatic Express ends up being a very comfortable night spent in a cottage in the gardens of the Muthaiga Club – a place frozen in time, with antiquated rules which have not changed since its founding in 1913. No hats in the lobby, no ladies allowed in the “gentlemen’s bar” except on New Year’s eve etc.
The Great Migration is an almost supernatural phenomenon. Five million animals thundering across the Serengeti and the Mara plains in search of better grazing, as if guided by an invisible hand. We witnessed 10,000, maybe more, wildebeest crossing the Mara River like an irresistible force. A flow of dark energy, undulating over the river and emerging on the opposite bank to scatter like so many primal demons.
On the drive from the airstrip to the Nkorombo Camp, we see lions within five minutes. This will be an oft repeated pattern. The Mara is teeming with animals, more than we have ever seen before. They ignore the mechanical beasts we ride in and wander nonchalantly around us.
This is probably the closest to the Garden of Eden we will get. I wonder whether that is what the “developed” world looked like before it developed.
In the afternoon, we get caught by torrential rain. When it stops, the water collected in the vehicle tracks criss crossing the plains, illuminated by an ephemeral rainbow, then the vanishing rays of the sun looks like the calligraphy of a giant artist.