17 February, 2014

When the sun is coming up and you go

I have just been travelling with my parents on a safari around Mount Kenya for eight full days. It was a great opportunity to see lots of wild animals in various natural habitats of Kenya. We went looking for the classic "big five" animals in the arid savanna of Samburu national reserve and saw three of the big fives there: lions, leopards and elephants. We stayed in the all-comfort Elephant Bedroom tented camp along the Ewaso Nyiro river which flows through the park. Apart from the delicious full-course meals served three times a day, my highlight there was watching the wild elephants going through our camp on their way to the river and this young bull who seemed to have found his home there.

During the rest of the trip we were staying in self-catering lodges inside national parks or just outside. This was an opportunity for my father and our guide-driver Douglas Nagi to test my and mother's cooking skills. We also had to plan regular supermarket and market stops along the way to stock up on food; we would then argue on what to buy given our large appetites but limited-sized cool box and the possibility of not finding a fridge or electricity at our destination. (If market sellers in Isiolo and Nanyuki seemed used to foreigners shopping for fresh produce, the small butcher on the road to Meru was quite surprised to see foreigners stop by for 1kg of beef. But he nonetheless chopped a chunk off from the half-cow carcass hanging down in his shop; it went into a bœuf bourguignon stew that evening.)

The 3000m-high Rutundu log cabin up in the moors of Mount Kenya national park had neither electricity nor fridge. But the chilly outside temperatures made a refrigerator unnecessary. Oil-fueled storm lamps and clever solar-powered stand lamps lighted our short evenings. Most of our nighttime was actually spent sleeping. This was a charming change from the usual car-bound hot and dusty African safari experience: invigorating cold mountain weather, steep mountain hiking up to 3500m, keeping warm by the fire place.

Our final stop was in the semi-arid Meru national park where we spotted the last two of our big fives this week: rhinoceroses and Cape buffaloes. Compared with Samburu, the savanna looked very much greener, denser and bushier which made it much more difficult to spot animals.

This trip also allowed me to discover the man-made agricultural landscapes of the country where I now live in. Central Kenya seen from the main road struck me as a succession of smallholder plot agriculture and large-scale farming. Enormous pineapple, coffee and timber tree plantations cover the plateau north of Thika. These are followed by a smallholder-size multi-cropping system which gives a lush green landscape from the plateau of Wamumu up to the steep hills around Nyeri. The staple crop of this system is clearly maize judging by all the maize I saw in the plots along the road. The road stalls and hawkers display the produce of associated market gardening: banana, taro, mango, papaya. Further North, large grazing fields hold dairy cows and other small livestock south of Nanyuki. The Northern slopes of Mount Kenya were the most striking to me with their immense fields of wheat, barley, sunflower and canola; it was not at all a landscape I had expected to find along the Equator in Africa. Roadside stalls and hawkers again showed off the locals' garden produce: potato, carrot, tomato, pepper and other temperate vegetables. The arid scrubland North of Isiolo can only be used as grazing for large herds of livestock tended by colourfully-clad Samburu men and boys. The half-day road trip from arid Samburu to semi-arid Meru was surprising to me because we had to pass through the lush and temperate Nyambeni Hills with more smallholder maize and very green home gardens of fruit trees and vegetables.

There was lots to see along the roads of Central Kenya.

On the road
Keane, Strangeland, Universal-Island Records Ltd

16 February, 2014

ILRI on the cover of a magazine

Dairying in Bomet District, Kenya
Well nearly...
A story on grouping smallholder farmers into dairy marketing and service hubs is featured on p100 of Kenya Airways' February Msafiri in-flight magazine.

Madonna, I'm breathless: music from and inspired by the film Dick Tracy, Sire

Photo: ILRI/Paul Karaimu