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Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Did you know there are about 300 Kenyan children receiving education due to the generosity of the global Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology!) community?  And in July, some of those supporters came to Kenya to visit the school and see for themselves the beautiful school they had a hand in creating.  But they couldn’t come all the way to the land of safari without also seeing some animals.  Enter OTA – this is the story of the Sunrise of Africa School VIP visit.

Thirteen people made the journey out to Kenya to visit the Sunrise of Africa School.  Three were the grandchildren of the school’s founder.  Three only stayed a short while and didn’t join our safari as they had a couple of other schools to visit.  And then we added three Sunrise staff to the safari so we were back to thirteen when we set out early one chilly July morning for the Samburu National Reserve.  The group had been staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near Nairobi’s international airport.  It was opened in March 2018, and this being July of the same year, the hotel was still sparkly and shiny.  It would be a welcome sight after three days of dusty safari!

Francis, me, our baby Gabriel, Michelle and her daughter Amy squeezed into the van which was a supply vehicle first and foremost and thus was packed tight with all our camping equipment.  The rest were in the Land Cruiser with Julius and Sammy, the school’s Director, had three more in his vehicle.

We headed out of Nairobi before the traffic could build up and had our first stop at Sagana.  The curio shops slyly keep their toilets clean so tour vehicles will be more inclined to stop for a bathroom break.  They also slyly keep their toilets at the back of the shop so you have to walk past all their lovely trinkets on your way in and out.  Not having had much chance to buy souvenirs during the trip so far, the bathroom break became a bit longer.

Next stop was at the home of a friend of the school.  Her house is just before Nanyuki, and she had laid out a massive spread.  Too big for morning tea, too early for lunch, it didn’t matter what we called it, it was delicious!

But now the time was getting away from us as we were due at the lodge in Samburu for lunch.  So we motored on, pausing in Nanyuki to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for the campers.  Now I should explain our trip a bit more.  The guests had been given the option of staying in a lodge/tented camp or bush camp, in order to cater for varying budgets.  Six of the international guests chose the tented camp option while Michelle and her children and the Sunrise staff opted to camp.  So, that’s why we had a van full of camping equipment but we were rushing to get to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, they went out on their first game drive (the dash from the gate to the accommodation didn’t count).  They saw a massive tower of giraffes and elephants galore.  The next day they went out for morning and evening game drives, relaxing in their respective camps during the heat of the day.  More elephants, more giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, impala, and hyena were the highlights.  Unfortunately no lions were forthcoming during those three days.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our 11-month-old was having a whale of a time chasing monkeys, playing in the dirt, and falling in love with 7-year-old Amy.  He kept us all on our toes though, especially when the group was off on game drive and we were left to cook.  Luckily there were a couple of extra guys around cleaning the campsite and generally helping out, so they took on much of the babysitting.  There’s so much for a toddler to explore around a campsite: a charcoal cooking fire, buckets of water, a bucket of vegetable peelings, logs with all sorts of lovely critters crawling under the bark, the list goes on!  But I’ve come to see that in Kenya children are adored and doted upon, by clucky women and aloof men alike.  So I was comfortable with Gabriel exploring freely, knowing there were several other pairs of eyes always on him along with mine.

On the last day we drove out through Buffalo Springs Reserve.  The Samburu eco-system is made up of three separate reserves.  Samburu and Buffalo Springs are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River and it’s very easy to cross between the two so long as the bridge hasn’t been washed away.  Shaba is across the highway.  So we headed south through Buffalo Springs to join the highway near Isiolo.  It’s always nice to replace some highway driving with more time in the parks.

We stopped for lunch at Dormans in Nanyuki where we had smoothies and milkshakes and salads and other treats that the guests had been missing after a week at the school eating Kenyan cuisine.  We also made the obligatory photo stop at the Equator.  From Nanyuki we didn’t stop again until we got back to the Hilton Garden Inn.  Our timing wasn’t perfect and we caught a bit of Nairobi’s rush hour traffic.

A visit to Kenya is not complete without a visit to the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage so that’s what we did the following day.  Then a final lunch together at the home of the school’s founder before the guests headed home.  They really saw all sides of Kenya: both interacting with the people while they were at the school and then interacting with the wildlife on their safari.

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Have you met the Samburu Five?

Have you met the Samburu Five?

Situated at the southern corner of the Samburu district in the Rift Valley province, the Samburu ecosystem comprises three national reserves: Shaba, Buffalo Springs and Samburu.  These parks are not as famous as others in Kenya, but within this ecosystem are species found nowhere else in the country, including the Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and Gerenuk.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The landscape offers amazing variety from open savannah to scrub desert to lush river foliage, offering fantastic opportunities for excellent wildlife encounters.  Steep-sided gullies and rounded hills formed on the lava plain describe the terrain.  Vegetation in the reserve area is dominated by umbrella acacia woodland with intermittent bush-, grass- and scrub-land. Near the river, Doum Palm dominates the landscape. The fruits of the Doum are eaten by monkey, baboon and elephant.

The climate in this area is typically dry and hot.  Temperatures can reach 40°C in the day with an average low of 20°C at night.  The rainy season occurs during the hotter months between April and June and also November and December, with November usually being the wettest month.  Between January and March it is very hot and dry; July to October is also dry.  The elevation in the park ranges from 800 to 1,230 metres.

Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves are separated by 32 km of the Uaso Nyiro River, which winds its way through Kenya from the Aberdare Mountains to the Loriam Swamp near the Somali border.  The river is the lifeline of this arid region, drawing the water-dependent animals to it during the dry season.  In the Samburu language, “Uaso Nyiro” means “River of Brown Water”.

Located 345km north of Nairobi is Archer’s Gate, the main entrance to Samburu National Reserve.  Established in 1948, the Reserve is relatively small at 170 square kilometres, making animals a bit easier to find than in other parks.  Entry fees for foreigners are currently US$70 per day (2014).

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Monkey, olive baboon, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, monitor lizard and Nile crocodile are the most commonly seen residents of Samburu.  Lodges in the reserve have attracted the normally reclusive leopards with bait for several years, so the chances of seeing one are greater than in other parks.  As well as these mammals and reptiles, there are over 300 species of birds, including large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowl.  The five endemic species to the area are: Gerenuk, also known as the “giraffe-necked antelope” as it has a stretched neck adapted for browsing high into the bushes; Grevy’s Zebra, with wide black stripes and a completely white belly; Beisa Oryx; Reticulated Giraffe; and the blue-legged Somali Ostrich.

Accommodation in and around Samburu National Reserve varies in luxury and budget.

Umoja Women’s Campsite is our favourite budget option just outside the park gate at Archer’s Post.  It is a community campsite with bandas (small huts) and simple meals.  It is attached to a women’s village that provides refuge for Samburu women fleeing domestic violence.  Proceeds from the campsite support the women, and you can visit the village to learn more about Samburu culture.  Meet the Chairwoman and Founder, Rebecca Lolosoli, in this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1zuCNemmPo.

Samburu Intrepids is an eco-friendly option inside the reserve.  They have financed the development of a school, a bee-keeping project and medical services in the community.

Larsens Camp, Samburu Game Lodge, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp are other lodges in the area.

The town of Archer’s Post has simple, budget guesthouses and restaurants.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

OTA is running a eight-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  The tour includes game viewing in Samburu, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Fourteen communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information, or check the event page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/OverlandTravelAdventures

Ethnic Groups of Northern Kenya

Ethnic Groups of Northern Kenya

In June, fourteen ethnic groups of northern Kenya will come together to present the Lake Turkana Festival.  The festival is a celebration of culture and provides opportunity for visitors to learn and experience traditional song, dance, food and rituals from this remote corner of the world.  The groups that live in this region include Borana, Turkana, Samburu, Wata, El Molo, Rendille, Dassanach, Gabbra, Konso and Burji.  This article will describe a few of these main groups, their languages, religions and industries.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival 11-19 June, Kenya, www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Kenya is home to 52 tribes that are descended from three broad linguistic groups – Bantu, Nilotic and Cushitic.  Bantu sub-groups make up the majority of Kenya’s population and include the largest tribe, the Kikuyu, as well as Luhya, Kisii, Kamba and others.  The Nilotic sub-groups account for about 30% of Kenya’s population and include Luo (Kenya’s second-largest tribe), Kalenjin and Maasai.  Only 3% of Kenyans are Cushitic, but greater numbers of Cushites live in southern Ethiopia.

Nilotic Groups

Turkana

The Turkana are the tenth-largest tribe in Kenya with a population of 988,592, which is approximately 2.5% of the country’s total population.  They follow either the Christian religion or their traditional beliefs.  Inhabiting the north-west of Kenya near Lake Turkana, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists herding camels, cattle, sheep and goats.  The Turkana are known for their basket weaving and colourful beads.  They are closely related to Maasai and Samburu and have a reputation of being fierce warriors.  Their diet is mainly milk and blood from their cattle.  Although polygamy is normal, a Turkana wedding ceremony lasts three years, ending after the first child is weaned.

Samburu

Occupying north-central Kenya around Maralal are the Samburu, closely related to the better-known Maasai.  The Samburu either follow traditional beliefs or the Christian religion.  They are semi-nomadic pastoralists, herding cattle, sheep, goats and camels.  Their diet comprises milk, vegetables and meat.  The young men wear red blankets and use red ochre to decorate their heads, while the women wear bright, beaded jewellery.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival 11-19 June, Kenya, www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Cushitic Groups

Dassanach

The Dassanach people can be found spread across Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan.  In Kenya they inhabit the northern end of Lake Turkana.  They are also called Merille by the Turkana people.  Traditionally the Dassanach were pastoral but as they lost their lands (especially in Kenya) they also lost their herds and now try to grow crops to survive.  The Dassanach living on the shores of Lake Turkana hunt crocodiles and fish which they trade for meat.  Women wear pleated cowskin skirts with necklaces and bracelets, while men wear a checkered cloth around their waist.

Borana

The Borana are pastoralists, herding cattle and donkeys.  While they are a minority in Kenya, they are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and number about 7 million in total across the two countries.  Some Borana follow Islam and others follow their traditional religion.  The language is also called Borana.  They trade with Konso and Burji, exchanging cattle for food crops and handicrafts.  The Borana are part of an ethnic group called Galla which also includes the Wata, Gabbra and Sakuyu.

Burji

Migrating from Ethiopia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Kenyan Burji are found mostly in Moyale and Marsabit.  Most Burji however still live in Ethiopia.  It is widely believed that they are closely related to the Amhara people of Ethiopia as they have a similar language.  The predominant religion is Sunni Islam.  They are agricultural people and so became quite successful in northern Kenya, which is dominated by pastoralists, as they had something different to trade.

Konso

The majority of the 250,430 Konso live in south-central Ethiopia, with a small number in northern Kenya.  They are agriculturalists, growing mainly sorghum, corn, cotton and coffee.  They keep cattle, sheep and goats for their own food and milk.  The Konso largely follow their traditional religion and are famous for their carvings which they make in memory of a dead man who has killed an enemy.  They are erected like totems in a group to represent the man’s wives and family as well.

Rendille

The Rendille are nomadic pastoralists, keeping camels as their primary industry.  They inhabit the north-eastern region concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit.  In 2006 Rendille numbered 34,700.  They migrated from Ethiopia and the northern Horn region into north-eastern Kenya.   Most Rendille practice their traditional religion while a few have adopted Islam or Christianity.

El Molo

The tiny El Molo tribe numbers 5-700 people with only a handful of pure El Molo left.  They are hunter/gatherers, inhabiting the north-eastern region of Kenya.  They migrated from Ethiopia and the northern Horn regions, but now live almost exclusively in Kenya.

Gabbra

The Gabbra’s primary occupation is herding camels, goats and sheep.  They live north of Marsabit, grazing their animals amongst the gravel and stones of the Chalbi Desert and Dido Galgallu Desert in the eastern region.

Wata

The Wata are one of only a few small tribes that are hunter/gatherers.  Their language is similar to that of the Bushmen found in Southern Africa.

Do you fancy meeting all these tribes in one incredible weekend?  Join OTA on their nine-day Lake Turkana Festival Tour, travelling through the region and stopping in Maralal, Marsabit and Samburu to meet communities as well as experience the three days of the festival.  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour www.ota-responsibletravel.com Kenya Safari

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