Published: June 2008
Kenya is a big country – 580,367 km² in fact – and in some senses I guess I owe it my life.
My mother and father met on a road in the bush out here, back in the 60s. Papa was on military service and mum was on her way back to Nairobi from her family farm. Papa broke down and, being the hopeless, endearing Parisian that he remains today, stood by the side of his (not so) trusty vehicle for no less than 6 hours, waiting for someone to drive by and rescue him. That first someone was my mum.
Mum is Kenyan born and bred. Her family made their way out there in the early days of the twentieth century.
Grandpa spent his childhood in Cumbria – setting the moors on fire, if memory serves, but upon deciding that he lacked adventure, flipped a coin (literally) and set off to join his uncle in Kenya.
At the time, my great, great uncle had a farm in Africa at the foot of Mount Kenya’s northern slopes where the arid, dusty plains creeping south from Ethiopia hit the Escarpment and its cool, temperate tea regions. Grandpa joined this great, great uncle and became a farmer. When war broke out he was called up to the East African Regiment, and in so doing met Granny.
Granny was from Liverpool, had trained as a health visitor at the Royal Infirmary and left England to deliver babies in East Africa, just her and her bicycle. She spent three years travelling from village to village through the African bush until war broke out when she started tending soldiers instead. And she met Grandpa.
When the war ended they moved back to the farm, which in the meantime had been renovated by Italian POWs captured by the British in Abyssinia. Back then it took 4 days by oxen to get to Nairobi and that was only if you were lucky enough to be crossing before the river swelled with the rains, otherwise it could take weeks.
By the time mum and papa met on the Great Ethiopian Highway (the so called dirt track that heads north from Mount Kenya for hundreds of miles), the journey had considerably shortened (down to about half a day) but the farm still stood in the middle of the African bush and Granny and Grandpa’s lives continued to revolve around lion in the livestock, elephant in the sugar cane and ostriches swallowing apples through the kitchen window.
Eventually Granny and Grandpa’s farm was chopped up and sold in bits and pieces to a variety of people. One little hill, called Lol Matoni, went to their neighbours David and Delia who turned their hand to tourism and set up Lewa Wilderness Trails.
So you can imagine my surprise when, after ten years of absence, I found myself spending my first night back in Kenya at Lewa Wilderness Trails...and Grandpa’s farm.
In 1989, Kenya made the international news headlines when it burned a stock pile of 12 tons of ivory (worth somewhere in the region of $3 million USD at the time) and called for a worldwide ban on the trade of ivory.
This same conservationist fervour continues today. Meru National Park, for example, has successfully managed to end decades of rhino poaching by Somalis, who used to visit the park with AK47s, and gorgeous, vast expanses of original bush are protected by the likes of Tsavo National Park, which at nearly 22,000 sq km is bigger than the whole of Wales and provides safe corridors for migrating animals. At Lewa, for example, which is today a private conservancy the animals are so well protected and happy that you can literally wander amongst them on horseback; quite extraordinary. In fact, in the space of 24 hours at Lewa we’d seen giraffe, rhino, warthogs, elephant by the dozen, all sorts of buck-this and buck-that and not one but four lions that we came across on a night safari.
Even Kenya’s spectacular coastline is protected. Five Marine National Parks and Reserves protect the country’s fragile coral reefs and ecosystems from over zealous fisherman and tourists, which means the snorkelling and diving are simply amazing.
The recent post election troubles meant that tourists steered clear of Kenya. This, you might think, could potentially have had a beneficial effect on wildlife… fewer cars…fewer gawking hordes …a return of the Mara to the Maasai perhaps…but the truth is quite the opposite. Take the Mara, for example. Since 2001, park rangers caught just over 1000 poachers while out on their patrols but in the last few months, with gate receipts down 80% when compared with last year, night patrols have had to be scrapped and day patrols may have to be scaled back as well.
No matter what anyone says a country without a government, violent or not, is still just that - a country without a government; not really a stable, safe place to be. But, unfortunately for Kenya, even now that the political stand-off has ended and a new power-sharing cabinet sworn in, the visitors seem to be staying away.
p>In a way it’s disheartening to think that a country can rely so heavily on foreign tourism dollars that it can suffer so much when we don’t turn up. However dependence on the tourist buck has in large part resulted from Kenyans realizing what a valuable asset they have by way of their wildlife and what a unique experience and adventure they can offer the world. They’ve understood it, safe guarded it and are just waiting for us to enjoy it.
For me, Kenya brought Granny to Grandpa and Papa to Mum, all of which resulted in me. So I guess my partiality can’t be much of a surprise. But I do love the place and, honestly, it’s definitely worth a visit.
For a memorable sea safari with snorkeling, diving and a sumptuous lunch of crab and fish visit Charlies Claws and Kisite Marine Park on and around Wasini Island www.wasiniislandkenya.com
For great views of Mombasa and a delicious taste of Kenya try dinner at the Tamarind Restaurant, www.tamarind.co.ke
My accommodation in Kenya was as follows:
Leopard Rock Safari Lodge – ww.leopardmico.com
Amboseli Sopa Lodge – www.sopalodges.com
Baobab Beach Resort – www.baobab-beach-resort.com
Travellers Beach – www.travellersbeach.com
Windsor Hotel – www.windsorgolfresort.com
All our transfers and tours were with:
If you've visited Kenya, I'd like to HEAR FROM YOU