Kenya: On the roads less travelled





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    Default Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Kenya: On the roads less travelled
    30 November – 23 December 2017


    On our way from Nairobi to a family wedding on the Coast - and with an aversion to risking life and limb on the main Nairobi-Mombasa road - we packed up the Land Rover and headed into the bundu on the roads less travelled. We have been lucky enough over the years to have been to most places in Kenya, and any roads not driven, or places not visited cast a spell over us. We were on a mission…

    The original plan had been to loop through northern Tanzania and back into Kenya at Horo-Horo/Lunga-Lunga and then up the Kenyan coast: however, due to the bureaucracy involved - and numerous public holidays - we changed our minds and stayed in Kenya. We are so glad we did.

    With six days to get to the Coast, and ten days to get back from the Coast, we went through a spectacular variety of landscape. Kenya has it all: from the frenzy of the modern capital city to the wide open spaces; from the foothills of Kilimanjaro to the shores of Lake Jipe; from the savannahs of Tsavo West to the thick bush of the Taru Desert; from the thorny lowlands to the Shimba Hills; from the coastal forests to the white beaches of the Indian Ocean; from the tropical coast to the wilderness of Tsavo East; from the remote Tiva River to the Kikuyu homelands; from the fertile central highlands to the foothills of Mount Kenya; from the frosty moorlands of the high Aberdares to the Rift Valley; from the lakes to the forested escarpments; from the Mau Escarpment to the steamy Nyanza Basin; from the sugar plantations to the high tea-growing areas; from the Mau Forest to the savannahs of Maasailand; from the Rift Valley volcanoes to the Kikuyu Escarpment.

    Route:
    To the Coast: Nairobi - Amboseli - Lake Chala - Lake Jipe - Tsavo West National Park - Kasigau - Shimba Hills National Reserve - Kilifi – Watamu
    From the Coast to Western Kenya and back to Nairobi: Watamu - Tsavo East National Park - Sagana - Aberdares National Park - Njoro - the Nyanza Basin - Nairobi
    Attached Images Attached Images  

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    Day 1
    Nairobi to Amboseli

    This is a route well known to us. As always, we took to the road from Karen to Ngong and then to Kiserian and Isinya. Last January, the road between Ngong and Isinya was not in good condition, but repairs had been done and the tarmac road was good. At Isinya, we joined the excellent tar road to Namanga. We stopped at the old colonial Namanga River Lodge for coffee before turning on to the dirt road to Amboseli. The road was corrugated in places, but nothing untoward. At the Mashenani Gate to Amboseli National Park we paid our park and camping fees with the newly installed Kenya Wildlife Services’ efficient credit card payment system. This new system is, apparently, in place at all gates into all National Parks and, so long as there is mobile phone coverage, all fees can be paid by credit card or MPesa.

    Amboseli is a small but perfectly formed park at the heart of which is the elephant-filled swamp with the ultimate backdrop of Kilimanjaro. The drought had affected Amboseli and there were numerous carcasses of those unfortunate animals who had succumbed. The scavengers had had a field day. However, there were still vast herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe and plains game.

    We set up camp in the KWS public campsite within the park behind the HQ. We were the only campers there. The campsite is clean and well maintained with showers, flush loos, and a secure food preparation and washing-up shelter. We have camped at both this campsite within the park and the community campsite outside the park. We have come to the conclusion that we prefer the KWS campsite within the park. Not only does one have unlimited access to the park (as opposed to two visits per 24 hours when camping at the community campsite), but the KWS campsite is cleaner and quieter. During the evening, we heard the generator from the community campsite which was about 1 km away.

    Having pitched camp, we went for an evening game drive. Luck was with us and we found a pride of resting lions - as well as the “usual suspects”. Kilimanjaro was clear in the late afternoon and early evening. Back at camp, we cooked on the open fire (firewood procured for us by the camp attendant from a local Maasai for KShs 500), and had a good evening and night.

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    Day 2
    Amboseli National Park to Lake Jipe, Tsavo West National Park

    We did not do an early morning game drive, but had breakfast, packed up camp and headed out of the park. At Kimana village, we topped up with fuel and turned on to the new tarmac road towards Oloitokitok. A few kilometres later – just before the border crossing into Tanzania – we turned south-east onto a dirt road towards Rombo and Ziwani. This road, which runs along the Tanzanian border through fertile farming land, was new to us. Kikuyu settlers were given land here in the mid-1960s and they have prospered in this well-watered area on the foothills of Kilimanjaro: small neat shambas were interspersed with Maasai grazing land. In places, the track was quite rough, but numerous small lorries plied the route taking the produce to market.

    Once down on the plains, we wanted to re-visit the beautiful little-known crater lake Chala. If you didn’t know it was there, you would just drive past what looked like a small hill, but we turned up a very rough track and in diff-lock and low ratio ground our way up to the crater rim. The view is sensational with the bright blue lake and the mass of Kilimanjaro looming overhead contrasting with the dry plains. Thirty years ago, I swam in the crystal-clear water: however, after a friend’s daughter disappeared and was never found in the lake some 20 years ago nothing would tempt me into the cool waters. Once down from the crater, the dirt road went under the newly-tarred Taveta-Voi road and on we went south towards Lake Jipe.

    A few kilometres from Taveta is a piece of colonial African history – Grogan’s Castle. Here the infamous “Lion of Empire”, Ewart Grogan of Cape to Cairo fame, built in the 1920s a house on a hill overlooking his estate and Kilimanjaro. Thirty years ago, this castle was a ruin, but it has been renovated and sort of functions as a hotel. So, we turned up the steep track and went in. The staff were surprised to see us, but very welcoming and we had cold sodas and samosas for lunch. Quite what market the Greek owners of the house and estate are aiming at is unclear, but is in a sensational position and it was good to see it restored.

    Then on we went to Lake Jipe. I had been to Lake Jipe before, but Hugh hadn’t. The majority of the lake is within Tsavo West National Park and at the Lake Jipe gate we paid our park and camping fees. Lake Jipe is seldom visited - in the ledger at the gate, there had only been five entries in November 2017 - but it is beautiful and a bird-watchers’ paradise. There are boats available for taking visitors birdwatching.

    On the other side of the lake - in Tanzania - are the mountain ranges of the West Usambaras, the South Pares, the North Pares and, of course, Kilimanjaro. We set up camp on the shores of the lake beside the tourist bandas with access to the showers, loos and kitchen areas. Of course, we were the only people there. After setting up camp, we headed out on a short game drive. We saw a herd of elephant coming down the lake to drink, numerous hippos, and a large herd of giraffe as well as other shy creatures. The first part of the track beside the lake was rather washed away with the recent heavy rain, but it soon improved once on the higher ground overlooking the lake. Back at camp, we had our sundowners as the sun set over the beautiful blue North Pare Mountains. What a fabulous spot.

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    Day 3 and 4
    Lake Jipe, Tsavo West National Park to Mount Kasigau

    After a good night with hippos grazing nearby, we packed up camp and headed off on what we had been warned would be a rough washed-away track. As it turned out, the track was not bad, and we wound our way through this remote section of Tsavo West National Park to the Kasigau Gate. The views were lovely, and we saw quite a lot of game. Near to Kasigau Gate are some ramshackle but still functioning ruby mines. We exited the park and bumped our way to Rukanga under the impressive Mt Kasigau. A few kilometres outside Rukanga, we set up camp at Kasigau Base Camp https://lindicc.wixsite.com/kasigaubasecamp - a new project of self-catering bandas and a campsite built by Chris Campbell Clause. Chris was not there, but his manager, Jackson looked after us. Camping was good value at KShs 500 per person per night, water was available and showers and long-drop loos. Again, we were the only people there. Jackson brought us firewood and we cooked on the open fire.

    Early the following morning, we set off to climb Mt Kasigau with Jackson as our guide. We had been told the climb to the top would take 2˝ hours. Two and a half hours later we had only got to the saddle – my lack of mountain fitness and slow pace was taking its toll. So, at a viewpoint on the saddle with possibly another hour to go to the top, reluctantly we turned back. Two hours later we got back to camp. It had, however, been a wonderful walk through pristine cloud forest with fabulous views.

    Back at base camp, we had a rest on our camp beds under the tree, a restorative shower, an even more restorative glass or two of chilled white wine, dinner and an excellent sleep.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2018/08/11 at 08:29 PM.

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    Thanks for the detail - I look forward to the rest - some of your route forms part of a route I have in mind!
    Andrew


    Land Cruiser 76 (4.2)

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    Day 5
    Kasigau to the Shimba Hills National Reserve

    As always, we were up early, had breakfast, struck camp and headed off into the unknown. This was a day of the roads very much less travelled and for most of the time we were in “white space” on our GPS.

    From Kasigau, we headed east on a dirt road and 25 kms later we turned south and into “white space”. This barely visible track took us through thick thorny bush. This was the infamous Taru Desert which hampered the early explorers and was a trial to the builders of the railway in the late 19th century. This route is not to be tackled in the rains.

    With bush scraping the sides of the Land Rover, we bundu-bashed our way south. We were aiming for Kilibasi mountain which eventually we could see on the horizon. Near to Kilibasi mountain, the bush got thicker, but there were a few shambas. The track we were following seemed to be taking us away from the mountain and we needed to find the village of Kilibasi. Winding our way through thicker and thicker bush, we seemed to be heading too far south-west, so we turned back to where we had seen a subsistence farmer. He had disappeared: however, I spoke to a lady at some huts (thank goodness for my Swahili). Just as she was indicating a different direction to Kilibasi town, a man appeared on a motorbike. He told us to follow him and off we went in the opposite direction to that indicated by the lady. So, on we went through the thick bush and sand until we looped round the mountain and popped out of the boda boda track and into the small settlement of Kilibasi. We had heard a rumour that there was a new road from Kilibasi south-east to the Shimba Hills, but having spoken to two people in Kilibasi this was patently not true, and we set off down a track to Shambini. This track, again, is not for wet weather: most of it is on Black Cotton Soil, which sets like concrete when dry but becomes a slippery morass in the wet. Once at Shambini, we could see the Shimba Hills in the distance and we wound our way up into the hills. Feeling in need of a cold beer, we pulled into the Shimba Hills Lodge in the forest overlooking a waterhole. It is a lovely treehouse lodge, but, unfortunately, they do not serve lunch to non-residents, but they did serve beer. Refreshed, we headed off into the main section of the National Reserve to set up camp in the public campsite deep in the forest overlooking open glades.

    Neither of us had been to Shimba Hills National Reserve before. From the hills, the sea is visible to the east. The Shimba Hills are the only habitat in Kenya of the rare Sable antelope. Sadly, despite our best endeavours, the Sable were elusive. There are apparently over 600 elephants in the greater Shimba Hills ecosystem, but we didn’t see any either. It is a lovely range of hills with pristine coastal forest. We had a good night on our own with a campfire.

    We had made it from Nairobi to within sight of the Indian Ocean without going on the main road!

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    Day 6
    Shimba Hills National Reserve to Kilifi

    Early the next morning, we packed up camp before the heat of the day and headed off. We had intended on dropping down out of the hills eastwards and going through Mombasa. Getting from the south coast on to Mombasa Island involves the Likoni Ferry which, combined with heavy traffic in Mombasa, can make for a hot sweaty day. So, we decided to continue on the roads less travelled and headed back down the hills to the west before turning north-east towards Mazeras. Again, this road was not on our GPS, but the paper map was accurate.

    An hour or so later, we saw in front of us the new Chinese-built railway. We crossed over it and a few miles later, at Mazeras, we came to the Nairobi-Mombasa road. Try as we might, we had to drive on it. Damn! But 200 metres later, we turned off the main road and on to a good tarmac road from Mazeras to Kilifi. We arrived at Kilifi on the coast at lunchtime and celebrated with a beer at the Sailing Club overlooking the creek. We had made it from Nairobi to the Coast with only 200 metres on the main road!

    We had read reports of the Kilifi backpackers’ and overlanders’ place eccentrically called Distant Relatives Eco Lodge (one wonders if the name comes from the quote “happiness is a large and close family - in a different country”). As we drove to the end of the creek, the heavens opened, and torrential rain turned the track into a raging river. We were warmly welcomed at what is commonly known as Kilifi Backpackers, and increased the average age by at least 30 years. It was extremely hot and humid, and we didn’t fancy camping in the heat and the rain. So, we took a spacious, but hot banda, repaired to the bar for a late lunch and another beer, before an afternoon siesta, and a walk to the distant beach. Luckily for us, there weren’t too many dissolute youth staying and partying into the wee small hours. It is a nice enough place and cheap, but we could not see where vehicle-dependent campers could set up except for in the small carpark. One of the drawbacks of this place is that it is some way back from the creek, it is very jungly, and anything less than a strong breeze fails to penetrate. It is hot and sweaty - although we slept well in the banda under just a sheet with a fan blowing.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2018/01/04 at 12:17 PM.

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    Day 7 - 13
    Kilifi to Watamu

    After breakfast, we headed north to Watamu and an hour and a half later we fell into the lap of luxury. We had taken a house belonging to Kenya friends. This lovely old Watamu house is right on the beach, is shaded by palm and casuarina trees, has a swimming pool and four staff. Bliss!

    We had a fabulous week on the coast celebrating my niece’s wedding, partying, reading, swimming, walking and seeing old friends and family.

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    Day 14
    Watamu to Ndololo campsite, Tsavo East National Park

    Tearing ourselves away from the lap of coastal luxury, we packed up the Land Rover again and headed off. We had a week to get from Watamu to our friends’ farm in western Kenya near Lake Victoria - and we wanted to avoid main roads as far as possible.

    At Malindi, we turned west towards Tsavo East National Park. The road varied from good new tarmac to a reasonable dirt road. Three hours from Watamu, we came to the Sala Gate to Tsavo East NP.

    As we parked up to go and pay our park and camping fees, we noticed a huge South African registered motorbike. There then followed an unfortunate encounter which, despite this being a South African forum, I am going to relate.

    In the office was an irate red-faced South African man in his 60s. He was shouting at the softly-spoken young Kenya Wildlife Services’ rangers and office staff. They were perplexed. It transpired that this man had been under the misapprehension that he could ride his motorbike through the National Park. He kept shouting “it’s ridiculous” and behaving atrociously to the gentle Kenyans. It had taken him four hours to ride from Malindi (it took us three hours from further away in Watamu) and he did not want to turn back. He was gesticulating wildly at his rather bad map, shouting that he had ridden through the Kruger and the Addo elephant reserve in South Africa, he had been on his bike within 5 metres of an elephant before, and why could he not ride through Tsavo East with an escort? We tried to explain to him that different countries have different rules, he should have done his research beforehand, that it was not a public road from Sala Gate to Manyani, no motorbikes are allowed through any National Parks in Kenya and that the KWS staff could not possibly allow him through, but, were, in truth doing all they could to advise and assist him.

    As the rangers explained, he basically had only one safe option which was to ride back to Malindi, spend a night, cool off, and then take the road to Mombasa and then up the hell-run to Nairobi. However, they also said there was a remote 80km bush track along the cutline demarcating the edge of the National Park which might be passable by motorbike and would bring him out on the Mombasa Nairobi road about 80 kms short of Voi. He angrily asked the rangers when this cutline had last been graded, but we and the rangers said this is never graded and it would be a rough bush track. The rangers said they could radio their colleagues at Mackinnon Road/Buchoma Gate and if they didn’t see him that day, they would try to arrange for a search party. He had already admitted that if he fell off the bike he couldn’t lift it, he was only carrying four litres of water, and had no phone or other means of communication. He stomped off asking where he could get some water still muttering angrily. We apologised to the rangers for his behaviour and that we hoped they didn’t think all Wazungu behaved like that: they laughed. We paid our park fees and camping fees and left hoping that this unpleasant man would see sense and ride back to Malindi to cool off. We do feel a frisson of guilt that we didn’t dissuade him from taking what would be a tough 80 km cutline track through the waterless Taru Desert. We never heard whether, and how, he made it out.

    Determined that this unpleasant encounter would not spoil our day, we wended our way along the Galana River and then to the public campsite at Ndololo near Voi. We set up camp in the shade on the edge of this pleasant campsite which has a camp attendant, a clean ablution block, showers and flush loos. There was a party from a children’s home camping with their teachers and carers nearby, and they were enjoying probably their first visit to see wild animals. They were well-behaved and not noisy, and it was good to see young Kenyans seeing and enjoying their heritage. With a cold brewing, I spent the afternoon on my campbed in the shade. As we had been to this area of Tsavo East earlier in the year, and not feeling at my best, we didn’t go on an evening game drive, but pottered around camp. But some elephant came to us – though, of course, nowhere as close as in the southern Africa countries: the four elephants very politely walked around the campsite at a distance of about 200 metres and we were told that they pass that way every afternoon on their way to a nearby waterhole.

    We had a good evening and night.

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    Day 15 and 16
    Ndololo public campsite to the Tiva River, Tsavo East National Park

    After breakfast and striking camp, we headed into the town of Voi to refuel and buy a few provisions. On our way back into the park at the Voi Gate, we bumped into a friend and had a good chat with him. Before we left Nairobi, we had booked a special campsite at Roka on the Tiva River in the remote northern sector of Tsavo East. This northern sector has only recently been opened up to the public – before it had been set aside as a wilderness area and was inaccessible for much of the year due to the ford over the Galana River. However, a new bridge has been built over the Galana River which has opened up the northern sector to the public, but there is still a ford over the Tiva River. This northern sector, however, is still wild and remote.

    The very helpful KWS attendants at Voi Gate wanted to ensure that we could get over the Tiva River as there had been recent heavy rain and the ford over the Tiva River had been, a few days previously, unpassable. They radioed the northern sector HQ at Ithumba and the good news was that the water in the Tiva River had gone down and the ford was passable. We thanked them and headed north.

    An hour or so later, we came to the Galana River, stopped for coffee at Lugard Falls and then crossed over the splendid new bridge. Tsavo East - particularly the northern sector - was looking sensational after the recent rain and wildflowers carpeted the normally dry land. The roadside was a mass of purple, blue and white flowers which was enchanting. The track north goes through thick thorny bush – normally dikdiks and hornbills predominate – but we did see lesser kudu and giraffe. Our map showed the Roka special campsite being on the south side of the Tiva River and we turned east on an overgrown rather rough track. Amazingly, our GPS (T4A) had this track on it, but it was very obvious that no one had driven it for many years.

    With thick bush scraping the sides of the Land Rover - and following a pretty indistinct track - we bumped our way through the bush. It was rather fun. About 8 kms short of where we thought Roka special campsite was we came to a swamp surrounded by doum palms. Inspecting this swampy bit, reluctantly, we agreed that discretion is the better part of valour, and being on our own some 20 kms off the main track (and many more miles from help), we about turned. With another vehicle, we would have attempted it…

    So, back we went through the thick bush to the “main” road, crossed the ford over the Tiva River, and turned east again. At the junction of this track on the north side of the Tiva River there was a sign to Roka special campsite. It is a bit of a mystery as to whether Roka is on the north or south side of the river. However, it was 30 kms away and time was getting on. We bumped and crashed along another pretty indistinct track until we decided that we weren’t going to get to Roka. So, we pulled off near a washed-away ford and set up camp right on the banks of the Tiva River. It was a magical spot.

    We pitched our tent high on the bank in case more heavy rain upstream caused the river to rage, collected firewood, and set up our chairs on the sandy beach. There was still a little water in the river, and later we bathed in the shallow water (there were no crocs). We set up our Trail Cam at a suitable spot, lit the fire, cooked dinner, and had an excellent evening and night all on our own in the middle of the bush.

    The following day, we collected the Trail Cam and found that an elephant had crossed the river near our camp during the night. We washed in the river, and then had a lazy day in camp doing chores and reading. It was a very relaxing day on the banks of the lovely river. In the afternoon, a herd of Impala came down to the river to drink, but otherwise it was the birds and us in our solitude. Fabulous! No doubt there were other creatures around – apart from the very long thin snake I saw relaxing on the verandah of our tent, but luckily it skedaddled pretty quickly at my hysterical outburst – but they kept themselves to themselves.

    Another great day and night in the bundu.

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    Day 17
    Tiva River, Tsavo East National Park to Savage Wilderness Camp, Sagana

    Early in the morning, we struck camp and headed back to the main track and then north to Ithumba. Here, we logged out of Tsavo East at the northern sector HQ, and headed north to Kitui. We had driven this road to Kitui last January and, although the Chinese are working on some sections of this planned new road from Kitui to Kibwezi, it is still mostly a rough dirt road. But nothing untoward and five hours from the Tiva River, we reached the tarmac at Kitui.

    We refuelled in the town of Kitui – which is in an area of fertile rolling hills and mango orchards – and an hour later we reached the Thika-Garissa road. We had thought we would have to go via the busy industrial town of Thika, but noticed on the map a road we hadn’t driven. So, we crossed the Garissa road and headed towards Embu. This lovely, quiet, tarmac road took us past two large dams on the Tana River, and into the bustling town of Embu in the foothills of Mt Kenya. From Embu, we turned west and then south-west through rice paddies and hayfields. In this fertile, well-watered area the farmers were busy.

    Eventually, we reached the main Nairobi-Nanyuki road (A2) at Makutano and turned north to Sagana. Eight and a half hours after leaving the Tiva River, we arrived at our stop for the night. Near to the village of Sagana is a white-water rafting centre called Savage Wilderness run by a British Kenyan, Mark Savage. Over the past 26 years, Mark has built up a very successful outdoor centre on the edge of the Sagana River. Not only is there white-water rafting, but also a zipwire, bungee jump, kayaking, canoeing and mountain climbing. It is a lively place with many young Kenyans enjoying the outdoor pursuits. Most people were staying in the numerous cottages scattered through the extensive grounds on both sides of the river. We, however, pitched our tent on mown green grass right on the banks of the river. There is a bar and food is available (no choice) for those not wanting to cook for themselves. We had dinner of chicken curry, vegetables, chapattis and a dessert. It was all very interesting and, despite the extreme contrast to our solitude on the Tiva River, we enjoyed ourselves. It is good to see domestic tourism working properly and young Kenyans out and about.

    It had been a great day driving through the contrasting scenery which makes Kenya such a unique country: from the thorny arid lands of Tsavo East to the foothills of the glacier-bedecked Mt Kenya.

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    Day 18
    Savage Wilderness Camp, Sagana to Reedbuck Campsite, Aberdares National Park

    After a good night – though with a wracking cough – we struck camp and headed off. Back on the main road, we turned north to Nyeri some 50 kms away. In the pleasant cool town of Nyeri, we stopped for coffee at the old colonial Outspan Hotel. Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, lived and died here in a cottage now aptly named Paxtu. The hotel and gardens are still as beautiful as ever, and we were served coffee at a table - with a starched table cloth and napkins - on the green mown lawns. From here we caught tantalising glimpses of the peaks of Mt Kenya.

    From the Outspan, it was only a few kilometres to Mweiga and the HQ of Aberdare National Park. With the new Kenya Wildlife Services’ credit card payment system functioning at all gates, we were told it was no longer necessary to call in at the HQ and that we could pay our park and camping fees at the Treetops Gate. The Treetops Gate is well sign-posted off the main road and we turned on to the dirt road. At the Treetops Gate, we paid our park and camping fees with money I had loaded on MPesa on my Kenyan mobile phone (credit cards are also accepted, but no cash). We were issued with the receipts, and headed up this beautiful mountain range. Up and up we went through the forest belt, the bamboo belt, giant heathers and giant lobellias until we reached the sunlit uplands and the moorlands. Here at an altitude of over 3,000 metres we set up camp at the very pleasant Reedbuck public campsite. We were the only campers though there were people staying in the nearby fishing bandas.

    Having lost my voice due to a cold and a wracking cough, Hugh had a peaceful day although he was starting to feel unwell. At this high altitude, we did everything very slowly as we set up camp. After a lazy afternoon doing camp chores and resting, we lit the fire and enjoyed watching the antics of the bushbuck and bush duikers who live in and around the campsite. The male bushbuck even came right up to the table and campfire to sniff it. Needless to say, we did not give them anything to eat as this is what causes habituation.

    With the extreme cold at this high altitude, it was early to bed after a dinner cooked on the open fire.

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    Day 19 and 20
    Reedbuck campsite, Aberdares National Park to Kembu Campsite, Njoro

    When we woke in the morning, the tent was thick with ice, but as soon as the sun rose, we packed up our frosty camp and headed west to Matubio Gate. From this western edge of the Aberdares is the most sensational view of the Kinangop Plateau and the Rift Valley – it was all bathed in the sparkling morning light. Those of you who have not experienced the exhilaration of a sparkling up-country Kenya morning, here are the words of Karen Blixen in “Out of Africa”: “The views were immensely wide. Everything you saw made for greatness and freedom.” “Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air.” “In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”

    We exited the park and drove down and down through the forest reserve and on to the Kinangop Plateau. This area was the heart of the “white Highlands” and we turned right to go through the Wanjohi Valley. This is the infamous “Happy Valley” with the notorious goings-on, in the 1940s, of a few aristocrats culminating in the murder of Lord Erroll in 1941. We drove up a dirt road through the Wanjohi Valley past lots of small neat farms, and sheep and cattle grazing - with tantalising glimpses of former colonial gardens and parkland and a few old gatehouses. Isuzu trucks, X Trails, and Toyota Corollas bumped their way laden to the gunwales with cabbages, carrots and other produce on their way to market. At the village of Wanjohi, we saw a petrol station displaying proudly the sign “Happy Valley” and here we turned on to a tarmac road towards Ol Kalou.

    We zoomed to Ol Kalou and turned south to Gilgil where we stopped to refuel and buy a few provisions. From Gilgil, we had no other option but to drive on the main Nairobi-Nakuru-Uganda road. However, we were on a mission to go on the roads less travelled, and 2 kms later, at Kekopey, we turned off the main road on to a dirt track heading west. This track took us through the former ranch of Galbraith Cole, the son of the Earl of Enniskillen, and friend of Karen Blixen. Kekopey was until recently owned by the Cole family, but it has now been carved up into mainly subsistence farms. Here we were down on the floor of the Rift Valley with Lake Elmenteita close by.

    On we went bumping our way towards the western wall of the Rift Valley, past Soysambu, the home of Lord Delamere. At the village of Elmenteita, we were delighted to find a short section of new tarmac, but it was not to last for long. With the road gently sloping upwards all the time, we were heartened that the climb up the escarpment to Mau Narok was not going to be too steep or hair-raising. The climb up the escarpment was on a rough, washed-away track, but nothing untoward and we bumped and ground our way up passing heavily-laden bicycles, motorbikes and small pick-up trucks. Once at the top near Mau Narok, we were back in colonial-era European farming land. It is a fertile area and there are still some forested areas on this the eastern side of the Mau Forest. The Mau is one of Kenya’s “water towers” and an important water catchment area. Sadly, much of the Mau Forest has been cut down, but work is being done to preserve this important source of many rivers – including the Mara River.

    At Mau Narok, we turned on to a potholed tarmac road heading north to Njoro. On we went through this rich agricultural area, through the town of Egerton (named after Lord Egerton who gave his castle and estate to the independent Kenyan government as an agricultural college), and shortly after Njoro, we turned into the lovely Kenana Farm and arrived at Kembu campsite. http://kembucottages.com/accommodation/. This farm was established in 1906 and is still owned by the Nightingale family. We fell into the calm and serenity of this up-country farm, pitched our tent in the beautiful gardens and got out our campbeds for a well-earned rest.

    Later, we had drinks and dinner in the well-appointed bar and restaurant area. Unfortunately for the Nightingale family, we were the only people camping. They also have beautiful cottages to rent – one of which being the childhood home of the famous 1930s aviatrix, Beryl Markham (see “West with the Night” and “Circling the Sun”), which Andrew Nightingale had moved from a nearby farm in order to save this piece of history.

    With us both suffering from lurgies, we decided to spend two nights on this lovely farm, and it was early to bed sniffling and snuffling.

    The following day was a quiet day spent mostly on our campbeds wrapped up in our duvets. The lovely staff did a mound of laundry for us and we were pleased that it had dried as rainshowers and a cold wind blew most of the day. However, we had a good rest and enjoyed having a day off driving.

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  23. #14
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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Day 21 to 23
    Kembu Campsite, Njoro to our friends’ farm

    We had a leisurely start to the day, and packed up camp. We were due at our friends’ farm in time for lunch and it was only a two-hour drive. So, we ambled off through the towns of Molo and Londiani, and down into the valley between Tinderet Forest and the Kericho escarpment. In the distance we could see Lake Victoria. This valley is another former European farming area – here it was not the British aristocrats, but the land was settled under the British colonial government’s Soldier Settlers Scheme after both the First and Second World Wars. After Independence in 1963, most of the farms were taken over and the farmers compensated under the British government’s land settlement compensation scheme.

    Winding down this lovely new tarmac road with very little traffic, we arrived at our friends’ farm in the Nyanza Basin in good time for lunch. It was great to see everyone, and we spent the next three days catching up, playing tennis, going for walks, playing games, eating and drinking. We also did some work – stripping out and cleaning (and getting cleaned for us) - everything in and on the Land Rover. Here we had time and space to do a proper post-safari clean. It was desperately needed with all the fine red volcanic dust which pours into the vehicle and gets into every nook and cranny.

    It is tough in the Tropics!
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2018/01/04 at 07:35 PM.

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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Day 24
    Our friends’ farm, Nyanza Basin to Nairobi

    Tearing ourselves away from the joys of verandah farming, we set off early on the long road back to Nairobi. Being the Saturday before Christmas, we knew that the main road (A104) would be very busy and consequently slow and dangerous. So, we took a more circuitous route. Firstly, up the escarpment out of the Nyanza Basin to near Kericho, and then through the tea estates towards Sotik. At the town of Litein we took a shortcut along a lovely winding good tarmac road to Bomet. Here we were on the western side of the Mau and smallholder tea predominated in this area. Once down on to the plains at Bomet, we turned on to the road to Narok. We passed the turn-offs to the Mara – and resisted the temptation to go to one of our favourite places. The road to Narok was pretty busy with people going home upcountry for the Christmas holidays. At the former dusty outpost (but nowadays hectic) town of Narok, we stopped for coffee before tackling the road to Maai Mahiu. The road drops down into the Rift Valley with lovely views of the Rift Valley volcanoes of Mt Longonot and Mt Suswa, and with the wall of the Kikuyu Escarpment looming ahead. We were no longer on the roads less travelled.

    The climb up the escarpment was busy and painfully slow, often grinding our way in first gear. However, it has to be said that all the trucks - and most of the other vehicles - were being driven with care and consideration. This road up the escarpment was built by the Italian Prisoners-of-War in the Second War and the fact that it is still in use some 70 years later is testament to their skill. At the bottom of the escarpment is the lovely Italian chapel built by the POWs and looked after and maintained by the Kenyan Italian community.

    Eventually, we arrived back in leafy Karen long before dark - and in good time for the Christmas celebrations.

    We had driven 2,508 kms – predominantly on the roads less travelled – and never drove the same road twice. What an adventure!
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2018/01/05 at 02:08 PM.

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  27. #16
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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Quote Originally Posted by AMacAfrica View Post
    Thanks for the detail - I look forward to the rest - some of your route forms part of a route I have in mind!
    Thank you, AMacAfrica, it is gratifying when one types and types to find someone reads it and replies!

    Safari njema!

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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Thank you for sharing this terrific adventure Wazungu (please give details of the name!).

    A number of these destinations are on our bucket list, and you have provided much insight.

    Also please sprinkle a few pics about
    Toyota Hilux 2.5 D4D SRX https://www.facebook.com/wild.safaris.5/

    The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated - Ghandi

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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Thank you for this wonderful trip report and for taking the time to write it so well. Definitely bookmarked for future trips!

  30. #19
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    Default Re: Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    Asante sana, JohnT and Caldriver. I will post a few photos in due course, but words tell the story.

    Karibuni Kenya!

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    Default Kenya: On the roads less travelled

    What a lovely account, thank you, WW, we really enjoyed it! Also, for taking the time to add colour with historical infos.

    Please could you tell me which paper map you use: I particularly liked the days where you were in white space on the GPS before Shimba Hills and trying to reach Roka campsite.
    Helen
    Last edited by Wickychicky; 2018/01/08 at 12:00 PM.

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