Mzungu and kikuyu went to Nakuru and ate chapatti.
Mzungu – white man. The literal translation is “someone who roams aimlessly” – this is how they called the first white explorers.
Kikuyu – a tribe in central Kenya
Nakuru – town in Kenya
Chapatti – local bread, similar to a pancake but without eggs
Swahili is widely spoken language in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and Congo
Habari – how are you?
Mzuri – good
Asanti – thank you
Sana – very much
Hakuna Matata – no war (no problem)
Wacha – leave it; don’t touch (the paraglider)
Una enda appi – where are you going to?
Naenda Iten – I’m going to Iten
Wappi pikki pikki (boda boda) – is there a taxi (motorbike, minibus)?
Pessa - money
Ethiopia turned out to be an introduction to Africa, while Kenya revealed it more inside: a country of contrasts – deserts and green savannas, mountains and ocean, wild and tamed, people and animals, modern and basic.
The flight from Addis to Nairobi was enlightening. The cumuluses were thickening south of Hawasa, but again faded after Arba Minch. There were endless cumulus fields South East of Bale Mountains. After the border, the terrain suddenly turns into a desert with colorful mix of different soils and textures. This is a continuation of Somalia desert which wedges between Ethiopia and Kenya until South Sudan. Despite the proximity to the Equator (5 degrees north latitude), a probable reason for the existence of this desert close to Equator is the low altitude which favors downdrafts from nearby Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands. Sharp mountain ridges emerge at the south side of the desert, which initiate the first cumuluses (at least 5000 m high). The volcanic Mount Kenya clearly suppresses the cumuluses around and was constantly creating a cloudy mass in its lee side by the prevailing NE winds. Further south, the elongated Abadea Mountain was pumping fat cumuluses in its lee side.
After we broke through the clouds and descended toward Nairobi, we passed over huge grassy area, which turned out to be a park. In the evening we drove along a dirt road at the border of the park and later we’ve heard on the TV that 6 lions escaped that night and now they chase them in the capital suburbs.
At the airport we managed to persuade the health officer to let me in, despite I didn’t have the obligatory yellow fever vaccine passport. The 90 days touristic visa is issued on spot and cost 50 USD.
In 45 million Kenya, except locals from different ethnic groups, there are a bit of whites, about 2 million Indians, money laundering Somali pirates, peace seeking relatives of South Sudan military guys and similar regional and international subjects.
Nairobi turned out to be modern and cosmopolitan with brave architecture. The private public transport buses were painted with graffiti. The authorities grumble, but locals enjoy using certain buses with individual character playing special music.
Kenya is the first country massively using mobile phones for money transfers. You charge your individual account within the telecom and pay for anything – fuel, restaurant, minibus, even for 2 bananas from the street market. No need to carry cash, which might be stolen. The telecom takes affordable commission and pays taxes, which go for infrastructure and development.
The game of democracy is on full swing. The Medias are freely criticizing the government, the opposition is pumping muscles and people think who to choose next. Jurisdictional system is independent; politicians and smart asses are afraid of it. I can often hear police helicopter flying above Nairobi and according to Isaac, there is adequate search and rescue service by helicopters and paid by insurers.
There are good and bad people everywhere. In Kenya, there are many disappointed by the modern realities. For example, once I was waiting in the car and a boy asked me for money for food. I told him that in Ethiopia poor people find food in what’s left in restaurants. He looked at me with hate – how would I eat from the food touched by someone else? His eyes were scanning inside the car all the time, like he was ready to snatch something. From the other side was his friend, also ready to act if I gape or loose attention. These are the future criminals. Awareing the power of having nothing to lose. What partly stops them is the increasing wealth in society, the growing middle class and examples of success with mind and work. At the same time, western culture deceives them with shiny things. There was a slogan on a truck:
„if hard works pays back, why there is no rich donkey?“
Armed robberies are not unusual. Until recently, on a steep part of Mombasa road, climbing trucks were slowing down and some were robbed by bandits throwing a cup of yoghurt on the front window. Then, the driver instinctively switches on the windshield wiper which blurs it completely and stops the truck for the lack of visibility. No wonder why metal containers are transported with the doors toward the cabin, so they cannot open them without a crane. Once, a driver caught a thief, who climbed the truck trying to steal something from the cargo. More drivers stopped and loaded the guy’s ass with the grease box until he died…
Isaac was locking his house every night despite his guard and dogs. He said he doesn’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night by someone sitting on his chest with a gun and asking him “where are the money? Even during dinner, he was locking the front door, to prevent bandits coming and saying – “good evening, but you, you and you, give us money and valuables”.
Apart of banditism, there are problems with religious extremism from Somalia (Al Shabab). All malls, banks and offices have watchful security with metal detectors and even mirrors to look for hidden things under the cars.
Despite it sounds awful, the crime in Kenya is not much different than wild nature in Australia, for example. It’s full of animals, which can quickly kill you, but if you put some efforts to study them and follow certain rules, you can relax and enjoy this completely different world. Banditism and religious extremism are rarely aimed toward white people, because it’s bad for the tourism; locals and state lose and there is stronger police reaction. In the north part of Kenya, there are tribes who often steal each other livestock or fight for grassland. If you drive and don’t see cows or sheep along the road for a long time, then there is something wrong and you should be careful.
I felt quite safe with Isaac. Wherever we went, Isaac introduced himself to locals, spoke with them and acquired information about the situation. Few years ago, local white paragliding pilots went to fly a hill in Massai territories; locals asked for money, they gave some, but didn’t gave their neighbors because the hill belongs to the state (the land belongs to the state like in Ethiopia and you can lease it for up to 99 years). The result was a broken car window and scratches from thrown stones and now local pilots boycott flying there.
Isaac still insisted to visit the place. We stopped the car in front of a tin church at the bottom of the hill. People came and asked for money. Money are usually given indirectly, when you hire someone for 2-3 euro to protect your car. In this case, Isaac refused them, but on the way back he spoke with the boss of the village and explained him how much they loose from their primitive greed and how they can profit from transport services, food, etc. The attitude changed immediately and we were invited to go and fly. This way, Isaac demonstrated the so called culture sensitivity and respect to locals, which we – the whites have lost somewhere on the way toward individualism and high efficiency.
Advices for calmer existence:
- be quiet like a rat.
- don’t show valuables and status (Isaac’s house is unpleasantly grey and faceless).
- Acquire info about the situation and trends (here comes our instinct to follow the criminal chronic).
- There are much less twisted and pervert people in Africa, than in our societies. Local bandits want valuables, not mockery. That’s why it’s good idea to have some cash with you, so they can go away without becoming evil.
When you travel:
Respect locals. Ask for the way. Show your intentions. Don’t forget that there are different ethnic groups / clans in different regions and adapt to each one individually (unlike lions, the leaders of elephants and hyenas are elderly females). Some are more direct and rude, other are respectful, third are suspicious.
If in Ethiopia your movement is unlocked by simply greeting everyone, here 70% of people looked at me with suspicion, some even with hate and only 20% replied cheerfully to my greeting. When I was greeting someone from these 70% , some were staring at me with the expression “what the fuck” , probably followed by the thoughts “this one is naïve and sappy”, “how can I take advantage of him?”.
Alike Ethiopia, in Kenya too the landing paragliding pilot gathers considerable audience, but locals are more direct and cheeky – they come and touch your equipment without asking for permission. You have to be patient as you’re on their territory. Their natural curiosity toward the flying and the equipment is what keeps the peace.
Isaac (left) from kikuyu tribe and a massai.
My Google Earth research of flying sites revealed that small part of Kenya is above the safe 2000 m asl. The humid equatorial climate was additionally humidified by the unseasonal El Nino rains which further increased my fear from malaria. Despite the huge success in fight and prevention, in 2015 there were 200 million infected and 0,5 million deaths.
Isaac offered me mefloquine for preventive treatment, but I refused it because I’ve heard it was harmfull for the liver and was not recommended for pilots and drivers. So, I decided to stress on the mosquito net and DEET repellent, which is also absorbed through the skin and doesn’t smell very healthy.
Despite the net, I was stung twice from the very first night.
The next day, after a nice flight from Kijabe, we travelled until darkness to Kitale, where we stayed in ex English gentleman country club. Next morning Isaac met Joel, who was moving some real estate papers for him. Joel mentioned that he had malaria, but for my surprise he didn’t take it seriously. Joel said – if you have money – you don’t have malaria. And indeed, when we met Joel 4 days later, he did Isaac’s job (i.e. made good money) and grinningly said – A miracle! Money came and malaria disappeared.
The more serious explanation of the connection between money and malaria is that in richer neighborhoods, there are less cases of malaria, because of the more protective measures and faster reactions when first symptoms appear. To catch malaria you need 2 simultaneous factors:
- To be stung by malaria mosquito
- The same mosquito to be infected by someone in the area
i.e. even if you’re stung by a malaria mosquito, it won’t cause you malaria if it didn’t sting someone with malaria during its life cycle.
The same day I spoke with a boy from Isaac’s eucalyptus farm and he said that there is malaria in the region and he have seen people dying from it but there are more scary diseases – hearth attack, brain stroke, cancer… . This didn’t calm me down so I asked Isaac for the mefloquine. I read carefully the leaflet – drink a pill per week for prophylactic, which shouldn’t harm much (there are other medicines which require a pill per day). The big doses are when you get the symptoms (similar to flu), when you have to act fast if you don’t want to die quickly.
Alike Ethiopia, in Kenya the anti-malaria medicines are free. They also give mosquito nets.
Later I spoke with Adrian, who lives in Kenya and the region for 20 years. He had malaria twice – once in South Sudan and once in Somalia and in areas with plenty of mosquitos. There is no sense taking medicines if you live here longer – the harm is more than the gain. Just keep big doses near at hand, take them with the first symptoms and the malaria passes like flu. It’s a game of probabilities…
Probably due to my permanent lack of money, I have always avoided conducted touristic tours and pre-arranged attractions. Meanwhile, I found out that paragliding allows me to see a country much deeper inside than what’s organized by the sterile and automated touristic industry.
When I was in Egypt, my local students pushed me to go and see the pyramids on my last day there and I was charmed by the sky, the sunset and the spirit of the place ( http://forum.skynomad.net/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=68 ). There are places which just have to be visited, despite their touristic cliché label.
The research of flying sites in Kenya kept me busy and for a long time I resisted Isaac’s proposal to visit the classic local touristic destination – Massai Mara park. Mara means Savanna.
After accomplishing most of the research work, I decided to trust Isaac’s judgment that this experience worths as an addition to flying tours in Kenya. Off course, on the way down I didn’t miss to check one more flying site.
The south parts of Kenya are populated mostly by Massai, who more and more flabbily resist modernization, whose lands are mainly bushy graze land. The pastoral life and undeveloped agriculture allowed for the creation of protected territories and conservation of wild life. Massai Mara park is 150 km SW from Nairobi and borders with the famous Tanzanian park Serengeti. Each summer, there are spectacular back and forth migrations of animals (the grass is greener on the other side). Now, in winter there is not much movement, but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.
We filled with fuel in Narok and went to the park. Soon, the tarmac turned into a dirt road along fenced and not fenced territories, hills and bushes with grazing caws and sheep and occasional zebras and antelopes next to them.
We entered the park around sunset and on our way to the hotel we met a careless elephant and shy giraffes.
The Keekorok Lodge was nice and artistically decorated. In the evening we overheard the tourist to find out what they have seen. Isaac’s tactic was to follow one of their cars in the morning and use their guides for free. He was very keen to show me the Big Five – the five biggest animals of Africa – the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, giraffe, and rhino. Later we spoke with a massai and hired him as a guide in the morning (the movement in the park is allowed from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m.). We set the alarm clock, but at 5 I was awaken by strange sounds in front of the door of our room. I looked through the window and saw a big fat hippo, which was methodically champing grass like a grass cutting machine. There was a second one 20 meters away. The hotel people should warn the guests; otherwise a mama hippo can kill an occasional somnambulist. There is a pond next to the hotel, where hippos chill out in daytime and in nighttime they gorge the hotel rye grass and flower alleys.
At 6:30 we loaded the car and the massai guided us to the suspected lion’s hangout. Few other cars came and we quickly localized the lions – 3 females and 5-6 youngsters protected by a big male, during the hunting of the females. The following photo session was freaked by the procession of tourists. Cheers to the lions for their patience, but still it is unpleasant to be followed and photographed all the time.
After the lions we took a different route back and met a herd of elephants. At 9 we went back to the hotel for a breakfast, paid the bill and after a short photo session near the hippo pool we drove back home. I made enough photos and didn’t want to be part of the procession of tourists, who moved soullessly from one exhibit to another.
A little before the park exit, Isaac decided to roam a little more, so we can see a buffalo. There are many protected territories with buffalos and Kenya, which can be dangerous if you land nearby. When the group is big, you can herd them with a stick and shouts, but if the buffalo is alone, it chases you and can even overrun you and wait you in front of the tree you’re running to. They say that you can protect yourself by laying in a lower part of the terrain, where it will be difficult for the buffalo to scoop you from with its horns. As with pretending dead for bears, neither here I burnt from desire to test these exotic survival techniques.
It became hot, the cumuluses blossomed and suddenly the Savanna spoke to me. I felt the life of ancestors.
We drove aimlessly through space and time with occasional stops to enjoy buffalos, antelopes, zebras, giraffes and ostriches. And all this on the background of a sky full of cummuluses and enigmatic cirrus clouds – the predecessors of the return of ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone).
Imperceptibly, we reached the river where dozens of hippos were having a bath and a huge crocodile was having a nap under a tree shade.
Suddenly, we reached the scene of the crime – a gutted hippo with balloons of intestines and a hole in his chest with the size of a lion’s head. In neighboring bushes, he was vigilantly watching the prey. At some point she came and rubbed herself into him, but he was lazy for sex in the heat.
The sun dictates life here! When it’s hot, grass eaters don’t move much to avoid overheating and dehydration. Predators also have a nap at shade. In the afternoon life fades and temporary peace comes. Then night comes again…
Main behavior engines in the Savanna are water, food and energy efficiency. For example, predators sense well which prey worth the running and which will cost too much efforts for too little chance to catch.
And of course sex drive and continuation of genes.
Unlike people, there are no prostitutes or homosexuals in the Savanna. Only males and females. Winners and losers. As they sing in a popular Kenyan song – crush the bones until you have teeth, because later you can only sorry.
I suspect that Savanna lessons keep Kenyans closer to nature, while Ethiopians immersed in the role of a man and killed most of their wild animals…
It’s easy to get lost in the Savanna – the equatorial sun shines from above and shadows don’t reveal which is north or south. For orientation we can partially use the direction of the wind which is relatively constant in the zone of trade winds; or the distant hills and mountains, if any.
It was interesting that when we got lost I didn’t feel worries but a relief. What can you worry for in this big space and land of plenty – the water is here, the food is there, and the female is further away…
Finally we found the exit, but my hearth left in the Savanna. I want to return to where I came from. Even just to be recycled. And these insane cumuluses. Endless fields of life and death.
I know, I’ll come back and try to fly. Beyond the fence. Together with my free brothers and sisters.
* If a lion kills a man, then the park officers kill it, because once it tastes human flesh it becomes dangerous for the tourists
** The professional safari cars have sunroof used by tourist with another roof above. In our trip we used pick up car with wide open windows, big enough for a whole lion to come in. On the way we tickled ourselves with fear by exiting the car for photos or launch.
*** Jazz, blues and soul fit the scene well.
Kenya has less mountains than Ethiopia, but seems more contrast and generous. Unlike neighboring Ethiopia, there are unexplainable changes of air masses. For example, today the sky can be blurred by moisture and tomorrow it can be crystal clear without any signs of change like fronts or thunderstorms. Probable reasons are:
- The Equator passes through Kenya, while Ethiopia is 10-15 degrees further north;
- There are less mountains to stop air masses coming directly from Indian ocean
- Local transformations of air masses.
The main rainy seasons are connected with the passage of ITCZ during spring equinox and autumn solstice, but summer can be rainy too.
My first flight was from Kijabe – a pleasant rounded hill near Nairobi. Shortly after take-off I unnoticeably entered the smoothest and longest 4 m/s thermal I’ve ever thermalled. The cloudbase was about 4000 m asl. I can see the conical Mount Kenya and 2-3 zones with different airmasses. Behind a distant mountain, it seemed like cumuluses grow upward and downward simultaneously. Completely different world!
Kerio is part of Rift Valley, which divides the African from the Indian plate. Flying is mostly in the west side of the valley, where the terrain creates 1-1.5 km high step. Despite this step and the mountains continuing to the north for more than 200 km, long flights are not so easy, because the terrain is not so uniform. There are bigger passes and windy gorges to pass further north. Record flights are made by using thermals up to 4-5000 meters (the take-off at Iten is 2200 m asl; the valley floor is 1000 m asl), and thanks to the prevailing NE winds, which are strong enough in early morning, don’t get too strong in mid-day and are evenly spread with altitude. So you can have long day for cross-country – you start and end the flight by soaring the most uniform part of the terrain and in the rest of the time you use thermals.
Flying Iten (the town of marathon champions) is not so easy. You can easily enter funnels with beautiful waterfalls, like a butterflies attracted by an orchid. At noon, the ridge breeze changes with strong updrafts and downdrafts. There are well spoken accidents and at least one of them lethal. Alike Ethiopia plateaus, here it’s also difficult to switch to flatland flying the plateau behind. There is a wide terrace 200 m bellow the take-off edge, and bellow it is the main slope till the bottom of the valley. This terrace disappears 10 km north from take-off and the terrain becomes more rugged.
The bottom of the valley is full of acacia and thorny bushes, and at certain places there are no landings. There is a local bush with hooked back thorns called “wait a minute”. A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right, then no forward, neither backward.
I read in a newspaper that due to the droughts, cobras and mambas creep from bellow and in search of water enter people’s houses. Some locals even leave them cups with water outside, to avoid problems inside (the snakes considers a man entering a room as a treat and attacks him). I didn’t see anything dangerous, but who knows where cross-country flying would bring me…
Another problem of big flights here are the frictions between west pokot, turkana and other tribes, which fight for pastures and rattle each other livestocks.
North of Iten we tested 2 take offs, one of them was very pleasant – a yard of a catholic church surrounded by a cliff and road to the top. We waited the Sunday service to finish and jumped in the void in front of the laity and clergy.
Another nice moment was when I sunk at the bottom of amphitheater like terrain and locals started mobbing from all around. I was less than 50 meters above the ground, but after 5 minutes bubbling I managed to climb up again and fly almost back to Iten.
Further north, after Marich pass, the landscape becomes drier and rockier, but it is worth exploring, because of the beautiful steep mountains. It should be flown in calmer days, because the place is quite windy.
On our way back from Kerio, we slept in Nakuru and then from Naivasha lake we took a dirt road toward Narok. I wanted to check another potential Google Earth take off. The road was rough; the area was sparsely populated with different farms and lush grasslands. A narrow road brought us to the top. Then, as usual Isaac started chatting with locals and we’ve learnt that other white pilots flew the places few years ago, but stopped after an accident. There was quite strong wind at the top, but when I searched more perpendicular to the wind exposure I entered suspiciously calm area. I went back to the car and the windy zone was again windy, and the calm zone was calm again without obvious reason – both were at the same altitude on the top of the mountain, 300 meters from each other. I took off expecting to be punished by turbulence, but all seemed normal. I didn’t want to fly close to the terrain in search of thermals and flew well in front until I understand the logic of the terrain. I took few thermals and made it back to the road for easier retrieve. The NE wind was too easterly and I didn’t climb enough to follow the road to Narok. Cumuluses were getting juicier, but it would complicate the logistics. The place seems good for beginners with its rounded shapes and big landing fields. The place is good because the mountain behind climbs to 3000 m and makes the NE wind coming perpendicularly to the slope, even when it’s wrong direction or too strong for Kijabe.
After I felt in love with the Savanna, the next place I tried was the popular among locals place near Machakos. It didn’t impress me because of its proximity with Nairobi airspace and because it faces E, when prevailing winds are coming from NE. I still have to admit that despite its shallow slopes it works surprisingly well, but this is mostly because of the equatorial conditions. Even the shitiest Bulgarian take offs should work well in Kenya.
2 hours later I tried a new flying site from the mountain range near Sultan Hamud on the road Nairobi-Mombasa. There was no road to the take-off, so after short introduction to the local Massai family, I walked 40 minutes in the heat until I reached a nice grassy slope. It’s good for N-ENE wind with possibilities to start from lower or higher position depending on the strength of the wind. In this case I took off from the middle and I immediately entered a thermal, which lift me up fast.
Meanwhile I remembered, that 2 days ago, when I flew the mountain on the way to Narok locals came as I landed. As in Ethiopia, here I was also warming international relations by encouraging them to try to break my glider lines with bare hands and thus showing them the development of modern technologies. The first volunteer hesitated not to damage my equipment, but I told him it was not a problem. He wrapped the line around his hands, opened them quickly … and the line broke. Stupid and funny at the same time ;) I told him no problem, made a knot and gave him to try another line. At least, this one withstood. I noticed that the broken line seems damaged on other places too.
I forgot about the line during this flight, but as I didn’t noticed any difference from the shortened with 4-5 cm B line I decided to trust the Sigma and enjoy the flight.
The cloudbase came quickly and I was in the middle of endless cumulus fields. The equatorial air was boiling, but it was pleasant – dense thermals from the bottom to the top and evenly distributed with altitude wind. Just classic! I’ve seen similar cumuluses in Australia, but they were more cumuluses than thermals. Here it was dense and strong everywhere.
The Savanna spoke again. Massai Mara is 150 km away, Tanzania 80, Kilimandjaro 120….
And as I was dreaming and trying to photograph the sky with the too smart Isaac’s phone I flew to the next mountain range, but without the connecting clouds above and quickly descended.
And the popcorns continue popping above. I’ll be back to watch the movie. Anyone for next year?
SkyNomad.club Kenya organizes paragliding tandem flights, XC and wildlife Safari tours