Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bike rides and Masai cricket

Entering the sprawling and stunning landscape of Laikipia 
Departing Cairo by bike
The bicycle be it a road bike or mountain bike is definitely one of the best ways to take in a country and absorb the landscape and people within it. There has been two stand out moments on a bike trip for me one was arriving in the town of Aswan in Southern Egypt having peddled from Cairo I felt I had seen and experienced more than most would of the country. The other was spending a long day peddling up the seemingly endless duel carriageway from Nairobi on which Irish Dan pictured left was knocked off his bike by a Matatu to suddenly appear on the edge of the Great Rift Valley before the long descent to Naivasha. But now a third moment hits the ranks with a trip closer to home in Kenya guiding a group of young people from Singapore with Rift Valley Adventures. The ride took us from Ethi a small village in Meru county down from the ‘highlands’ of Kenya winding past conservancies rich with Elephant and other game onto the sprawling expanse of the Laikipian Plateux home of the Ndrobo Masai. 
Setting off early in the morning to make best use of the cool morning air we passed the forested areas close to our camp winding up through the Chumvi hills through a series of steep inclines of which the group held strong and didn’t give up. The reward for the effort was the big views gained from our ascent across the Loldaiga hills to the side and below the descent between Ol a Nayshou and Borrana conservancies. A large herd of Elephant could be seen in Borrana beside a waterhole and numerous Masai Giraffe where along the way to distract the group from the 'odd' incline as we went. 
Descending into Laikipia there is a distinct change from the more fertile lands above to a more semi arid terrain with what many think of as the typical African scene of red earth studded with whistling thorns and other members of the Acacia. The group never complained of being tired or that the heat was building but thats the trick wth a good ride. The ever changing scenery and wildlife keeps the attention and determination to keep going on and see what lies round the corner rather than focussing on the physical effort. We continued passing small chambas and manyattas (local farmsteads) all surrounded by thorny Bomas to keep the lions from devouring their cattle in the night. Although not in a conservancy and instead riding through community land the wildlife is still there in good but sadly dwindling numbers, a watchful eye needs to be kept so as not to ride headlong into a group of Elephant or Buffalo. 
The group passed the Ewasso Nyro river which had some flow in it from the recent rains on Mount Kenya but overall the area is very dry and are in much need of rain which doesn't appear to be materializing very much. 
We arrived at our destination for the night at Twala camp in Ilpoloi a Masai community camp set along a dry river bed or sandy lugga. Without to much fuss the group kicked into gear and set the tents and prepared the cooking area for dinner at this point it was vegetarian pasta on the menu but the group started to realize there was more for the pot than they bargained for when a goat was walked in to join the plate. 
Its often the done thing here to buy a goat and BBQ it for the evening meal but its often met with mixed feelings. With a large proportion of the world being carnivores it does no harm for people to realize that the meat they eat was at some point was alive and well before winding up in bun or on a pizza. The Masai are swift in preparing the goat with every part being put to some use and the meat BBQ's over the open fire.
The following morning there was an interesting addition to the trip with a game of cricket with the local Masai Cricket warrior on the other side of the village. We headed up to meet Sam who was the deputy Captain of the team and who has also played at the home of cricket Lords. After a quick chat on how best to have a match it was quickly decided on ten overs per team which each side was a mix of Masai and the group. Following the toss it was off with the game. A very friendly and enjoyable game was then played with plenty of good hits and wickets taken. There is much more to the cricket warriors than the cricket they have used the game as a platform to build awareness of other issues effecting their community such as women's rights and a voice to speak out against female genital mutilation which is an old custom practiced by the Masai. Everyone whether a cricketer or someone who had no knowledge of the game had a great and very unique experience. 
With the biking finished it was off for some Lion tracking in Ol Pejeta the perfect evening activity.........

This trip certainly gives me a another great bike journey to add to the list. Multi day or just for a couple of hours you would be surprised at just how wild and memorable an experience you can have on the simple bicycle with a little imagination and a few strokes of the peddles.

Dan, Rift Valley Adventures 'learning through adventure'
Taking a breather en route to Twala Camp

A few runs prior to being bowled out by a student....
Where will it take you ? Bike resting in the Eastern Desert, Egypt 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Of Choss and Lions

A great fun video from some visiting celebrity climbers to Northern Kenya.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Brief catch up, Middle East, Africa and Australia......

Miguel on the lead climbing in the Stardust area United Arab Emirates 
Adrift, sea kayaking in Omani waters of the Musundam Peninsula 

A catch up blog seems quite tricky when left for over a year but hopefully this post should act as a catch up for an eventful few months which has taken me from Kenya to the Gulfs UAE and Oman back to Kenya and onto the Australia’s Western Cape and back home to Nanyuki Kenya, all in a short space of time. Rolled into that was ten days on Mt Kenya which gave me some good time to reflect on recent times. The best times in my career for life contemplating moments have happened under a fly sheet cocooned in a warm sleeping bag with the following days clothes in a stuff sack for a pillow. 

Camping in Haffa bay, Oman 
A few months in the UAE and Oman have passed since the last post making it a second round in the area and a chance to explore some more of the area. The highlight being a sea kayak journey along the stunning Omani Musandam coastline. A very wild and rugged coastline running from Khasab to Dibba Oman a town which is split between the UAE and Oman. Various inlets and beaches give for great camp spots. 
From the UAE it was a return to Kenya o which Nanyuki now feels very much like home. Returning it always takes a moment to adjust from the heat of the Middle East to Kenya’s turning seasons to winter which always feels chilly at first.
 Its been busy so far this season with various groups from Schools to Military passing through. 
Working one day in the forest though looking at a new climbing area my whatsapp pinged with a message from the director Nick requesting some help with a trip we where running in Western Australia, great I thought. 
A day later it was off to the airport via the troubled Quatar to Perth. Australia had always slipped me by but I had always been keen to visit Australia. 

Sunset from Gracetown Western Australia 

A giant Jared tree in Western Australia 

Landing in Perth the first thing which struck me was how cold it was, expecting Australia to be shorts and t shirts was certainly not the case the winter in Western Australia is akin to a Cumbrian Autumn. I headed across town to Cottleshue a suburb of the sprawling Perth. A great area right on the coast and waking in the morning found it bustling with surfers, bikers and runners all along the stretch of coast in front of the house. After some kit sorting the pick up was loaded and we headed out to the Western Cape home to the Cape to Cape trek. A stunning coastal walk from the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse covering I35 kms of coastal scenery. We had a group arriving from Singapore who where there to cover the trek over the eight days recommended for it. I had a reccie along the first sections of the trek. Its a pristine bit of coastline and one which was very popular with surfers with numerous named breaks all along the coast. I haven’t seen waves come in in such perfect shapes and consistant fashion, they also looked big to me, a place where you would need to know what you where doing and have a greater understanding of the ocean. 

Starting out on the Cape to Cape in Western Australia 
The group arrived late at night and I spent a few days with them at the start where we checked they would have the skills to complete the journey with minimal supervision before Nick continued with the trip and I flew back to Kenya to meet another group  heading up the mountain. They continued and made it to the end. 
Although a short trip to Australia it was enough to spark the interest to get back and see much more of the country. 
After a long flight it was back to Kenya and straight home to pack for the mountain with our regular Peponi school trip which went well. No sooner than I was down I was back up again this time with a Singapore school, we had a good trip despite some pretty snowy and icy summit conditions. 

Although brief thats roughly the last year in a few paragraphs. At the moment its busy with various programes going through so more in time............. 

Surfers off the Western Cape Australia 

Miguel bouldering in the Jebel Jais area, United Arab Emirates 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Return to the old blog.........

The night sky over the Arabian Seas on the way back from Western Australia 
Well its been a while since I last posted on here and I did start a new blog and have since abandoned it as it takes to much time to update. I spotted that this was still online so have reverted back to the trusty blogger. I quite miss keeping the blog so will be keeping this one up to date from now on. More to follow on recent trips in the next week or so..........

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rub Al Khali and the Liwa Crescent

The Sands at Morweeb

Having an explore but dont get lost !! 
While lying sick in hospital in Kenya with tick bite fever friends came with food and to wish me well making those few days give me a sense of home which I shall return to soon, but one friend Nick brought me a copy of Wilfred Thesigers ‘My Kenya’. Thesieger had lived in his later years a few hours North of Nanyuki in Maralal. I had heard of him but never read his books, the early day travel books and exploration accounts facinate me and between bouts of fever I read the book cover to cover in a week. His most famed travels where in the Rub Al Kalil otherwise known as the Empty Quarter. The largest sand desert on earth bordering Oman, The UAE and Saudi Arabia where it takes up more than half the country. With an oppertune break in the calendar a rough plan was hatched to head to the Liwa Oasis and the Morweeb dunes, some gear was thrown in the car and away we went. 
We left Kalba in the morning taking the road across to Dubai and from there to the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi. The reason for this oppertune moment had been due to a weather cancelation. Not a common reason in this area of the world. The skies where black between Kalba and Dubai with spots of rain but as we headed towards Abu Dhabi day turned to night and the skies opened with the most torrential rain, Sheet and forked lighting punctuated the dark skies above. Many where bailing off the road, a five laned motorway cutting through the desert, some however maintained normal speed apparently unaware that with a foot of vision and standing water it might affect the ability to react or brake. I pushed on slowly with the hazards on and nose squashed against the windscreen. Stuart who slept through the most of it in the back occasionally stirring to eat with Toby in the front with me where we had a catch up about Kenya as he was the first intern who came to work at RVA in Kenya. We last crossed paths in Mombassa but he had recently finished a contract in Australia and almost overnight had agreed to come to the UAE and fill a gap for the rest of the season en route home. The last time we had sped off to see what lay further beyond was to check out Olokwe in Northern Kenya so it was good to be back in a Landcrusier heading off to have a ‘look around the corner’. As we hit Abu Dhabi just after lunch we picked up supplies and found the rain had eased but had left a scene of destruction trees all over the road and deep standing water everywhere. Cars had been abandoned in car parks and lay bys, but the local workforce was out pumping the water and the Police where on all the roundabouts directing and keeping everything moving. We left the city heading for Tariff in the general direction of Quatar. Once you leave Abu Dhabi on this road the city literally just stops and its nothing but flat sand as far as the eye can see in all directions. @@@@. This must be the main desert and the reason why people refer to the Rhub Al Khali as ‘the desert within a desert’ as its within the Arabian desert. Once at Tariff we turned left heading for the Liwa crescent. This is a crescent shaped Oasis on the edge of the Rub Al Kahli. Its also the home area of the President of the UAE, the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is also the defacto President of the UAE. By the time we hit Liwa the sun was out and things where drying up but also the dunes where now appearing. As we collected some firewood in Liwa we headed onwards towards Morweeb. Now a strip of tarmac surrounded by huge dunes up to three hundred metres in height. This famed part of the desert was starting to open up and show its vastness. As it was getting on a bit we decided to get our camping spot sorted and set up before the darkness set in. We pulled off the tarmac heading down a gravel track and selected a dune to camp behind out of sight. I span the vehicle in tighter in under the dune I got it immediately stuck in the sand. It only took a short time of deflating tyres and digging to free it but certainly highlighted how you could get in a mess far from help without much effort easily. Any grand sand driving ambitions where shelved for this trip. You need a minimum of two vehicles to head into the dunes anyway more if possible. Its very easy to get stuck in the sand, although I would poo poo and certainly Thesieger would poo poo the idea of dune bashing the little what I have done is pretty fun it has to be said. But in the empty quarter its more about skill and experience and the fact that if you blow it no one is coming to help you. 

Tyre deflating 

More dunes !! 

We where up early the next morning and took the road to the end at Morweeb. From there we trekked around the dunes to get the best views and it was those views that made me see the extent of this desert. Its a truly empty place and I would think compared to Thesiegers days even emptier. The Arabs are no longer there anymore, he was the last to see the desert people as now they are in the cities and no longer nomads but oil rich and changed. When the oil came it changed the face of Arabia and the nomadic tribes. It would certainly be an impressive crossing though even today with modern kit and technology. We left there heading back to Liwa to have a look at an old Fort in the town and then headed around the crescent a bit to see what lay in the Oasis which was mainly date plantations and some odly fish farms. From there we took the long drive back to Kalba. Well worth an outing and certainly if I get some time then I would be keen to return and perhaps try and get a little deeper in. 
Evening creeping in as we arrived 

The open road !! 

note: the last post I made I suggested the next post would be on a new blog but its taking a bit longer to get ready so another one for here, perhaps the next one…..

The impressive scale of the dunes !! 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Wadis, Beaches, Boats and BBq's !

Sunset in the Gulf of Oman and snoopy island 

Heading into the Hijar mountains near Chees 
First post of the year and a late start as its already the end of February. Its been a busy few weeks in Oman with groups coming through and looking for new trips and venues and also having an explore of Oman and the Emirates. I had a friend Anna over to visit for a week which gave for a good chance to unwind and have a look around the area a bit more. We had a few days in both the Emirates and Omans Musandam. On the Emirates side we had a look at the snorkelling around Snoopy island and the reef around it. A huge amount of tropical fish are here including sharks. Its a protected reserve and seems to thrive as a result although all along this coastline it well known for its marine life and diving. We also took a trip down to the Shis pools which sit in the UAE but in order to reach them you drive through Madha a small town surrounded by the UAE but is actually Oman. Its whats known as a counter enclave. This means a small stretch of land which is entirely surrounded by another nation of which in turn that nation is largely surrounded by the host nation. Driving through you notice the signs, flags and images of the Sultan Qoboos start appearing but then as soon as you leave they quickly revert back to the UAE’s. 
We also called in at the Al Bidya mosque. The oldest mosque in the UAE which has been restored and is open to the public to have a look around. Its completely different to any mosque I have seen before and resembles clay domes, very small with two lookout towers situated on a ridge line up above. We had a good look around at the perfect hour for some photos as the sun was dipping.
We also had a great Dhow trip along the Musandam coast. A very unique and special piece of coastline. Omanis whizzing about in power boats along rugged and very rocky cliffs and mountains that make up the coastline. The peninsula runs along to Khasab and situated a mile off shore is Telegraph island which played a significant role in the British Empire but also where the phrase ‘going round the bend’ comes from. 
Entering the Al Bidya mosque 

Evening light from the view point at the mosque over the date plantations and Hijer mountains
The use for the island was a repeater station, communication cables had been laid to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire but also India in order for messages and communiques to be sent. A good fast messaging service was needed to relay instructions and to be able to respond quickly to issues which arose within the colonies hastened on by the Indian mutiny in 1857 and India’s subsequent segregation. This required two people to be stationed there to man the station known as the Persian Gulf Submarine cable. Due to its remote situation, very desolate environment and intense heat would deteriorate the mental condition of those who where stationed there. All they wanted to do was ‘go round the bend’ back to India. The heat here is now building and I put the aircon on this afternoon for the first time since arriving, I cant imagine how unbearable being there in the summer months with no protection from the heat would be, I guess just to compound things in 1860 once the cables where laid the WiFi would have been dial up so desperately slow. it was quite the operation to raise the money to put in deep sea cables which as far as I can gather was raised through taxation in other areas of the colonies. History says that various grants where raised to make this happen but those who delivered the grants where involved in other areas of the empire some in Africa on tea plantations some in Hong Kong whose profits went back to London and where then resent back in grants to projects like this, the same names crop up Lord this or that would often be the funder. I find it interesting to put the parts together, an empire has to sustain and pay for growth itself otherwise it would fail. By taxing an Indian shopkeeper along the Nairobi to Kampala railway in East Africa you can pay an Omani for permission and build a repeater station on the Arabian peninsula. Perhaps another blog for another time.....

Goat in Wadi Bidi
Anna and I also had an explore in the local Wadi Bidi a very impressive canyon just outside of Dibba and finished of with a beach BBQ before I took the drive back across the desert to drop Anna off at the airport. A great chance to spend some time with someone and have an explore around the UAE and also the Musundam. There are many things to do here which are contary to the belief the area is just a large collection of shopping malls and high risers in a giant dust bowl. Escape the city and there is quite an outdoorsy scene. 

Anna in Wadi Al Bidi 
As the sign says !

On one of the viewpoint turrets above the mosque
Tropical fish off the back of the Dhow cruise