A decision is made at Nanyuki Sportsman’s Arms Hotel to spend the night ‘somewhere’ in Laikipia. This band of land that’s a plateau, stretches from the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley overlooking Lake Bogoria. It’s by no means a small place.
Armed with wanderlust, we take the route to Il Polei – the home of the amazing Maasai Cricket Warriors – an hour’s drive from Nanyuki with Mount Kenya’s snow-capped peaks in clear view, in a country of huge ranches and wildlife conservancies.
At Il Polei, the dusty trading centre on the great plains of Laikipia, the cricket team is in Australia, playing of course, cricket. The team whose members are pastoral Maasai morans (warriors) with some studying IT in Nairobi have taken the world of cricket by storm playing in traditional Maasai attire of red shuka, beads and hair adorned with red ochre and braids.
We decide to drive further into Naibunga conservancy to explore and spend the night ‘somewhere’. The rangers we meet enroute call up their colleague James Kipish, head of security in Naibunga conservancy. By the time we in Kimanjo, he’s waiting for us.
It’s Monday and a busy ‘soko’ day, with traders, livestock owners and shoppers coming together for a day of trading, bargaining and socializing.
Our first ‘big’ encounter happens suddenly. A great big bull elephant covered with the copper-earth dust of Laikipia appears out of the thick bushes, continues foraging and vanishes into thicker bushes.
There’s everything in the conservancy that covers 43,000 acres. Kipish tells of the African wild dogs he spotted ‘just’ yesterday. I pin my hopes that this may be the day that l will see my first wild dogs. A herd of zebra appear – we’re excited but it’s the fat-stripped common zebra.
“I counted 71 during the weekend of the Great Grevy’s Zebra Rally 2016,” informs Kipish.
We’re stunned and our mouths remain sealed – for a good reason. We shot only one Grevy’s zebra in our block in Westgate conservancy – with the special cameras provided by Grevy’s Zebra Trust conducting the first ever national survey of the world’s most endangered equid at present.
The kopjes of Laikipia are stunning and we climb an enormous inselberg that looks like Mudanda Rock in Tsavo West. A pair of Reticulated giraffes – another rare species of the north – browses on the acacia. Log beehives hang high on a tree that has a strip of ‘mabati’ around its trunk to keep the honey badgers from raiding the hives. At the bottom of the rock, a little pool reveals four-leaved clovers and sedges. Four-leaved clovers are meant to be lucky.
The question of where to spend a night pops up again. We don’t have the budget for a fancy lodge.
“Ol Gaboli,” says our man because the community-owned lodge is affordable. Set on the banks of the great Ewaso Nyiro, the lodge with thatched bandas by a fat fig tree reputed to be the biggest in the area, has no one around. It’s deserted because it’s ‘soko’ day. And in all fairness, we hadn’t booked in advance.
Undeterred, our next choice is Twala Women’s Bandas in Il Polei. At Kimanjo, Fatumah Isaac of Ethiopian heritage, pops out of her shop to invite us in for tea with ‘ilachi’ – cardamom – and a plate of pilau. Dressed in a traditional, bright ‘dera’, she’s from Nanyuki and recently opened shop here. “It’s for my children. I have to educate them.”
When it comes to paying the bill, the pilau is on the house. Coming from a woman who has just told us that at night she throws her mattress on the floor to convert the tiny shop cum hoteli into her room, is humbling.
Nearer Il Polei, we stop to climb another huge rock crop, that’s an icon in the area. Most of the rock crevices are covered with the noxious super-fast spreading invasive Opuntia making climbing difficult. Local Maasai kids jump the rocks like mountain goats while lorries laden with the shopping from the ‘soko’ drive past in a hail of dust.
The sun’s sets. At Twala, there’s no one. After all it’s ‘soko’ day and we never booked. As the stars sparkle, we drive to Sportsman’s Arms Hotel for another comfortable night.
More on Sportsman’s Arms Hotel www.sportsmansarmshotels.com
Nanyuki OL Gaboli Lodge – 40 miles from Nanyuki – owned by Maasai women.
Il Polei group ranch stay at Twala: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0724.943.948
It’s 30kms from Nanyuki on the northern slopes of Lolldaiga hills.
Check out www.baboonsrus.com – Dr Strum’s amazing work with baboons in Laikipia